TELEMACHUS AND THE SUITORS
THE war for Troy was over, and all the Argive heroes who had escaped death on the battlefield and survived the storms on the homeward journey had reached their native shores. Only Odysseus, son of Laertes, the king of Ithaca, had not returned. A strange fate had overtaken him. After many wanderings he had landed on a lonely island covered with wild forests. It was the island of Ogygia, and there the nymph Calypso held him captive in her grotto, because she wished to have him for her husband. But he was faithful to Penelope, the wife he had left behind in Ithaca, and at long last the gods on Olympus pitied his sad lot—all but Poseidon, the sea-god. He was the ancient enemy of Odysseus, and while he did not dare destroy him, he put every possible obstacle in his way and drove him wandering over the sea. It was he who had cast him ashore on the island.
But now, while Poseidon was feasting with the Ethiopians, the immortals resolved that Odysseus was to be released by Calypso. At Athene’s request, Hermes, the messenger of the gods, went to the lovely nymph to announce the decision of Zeus. Athene herself, meanwhile, bound to her feet the golden sandals which carried her over lands and seas, took in her hand the sharp-pointed lance with which she had overcome many a hero in battle, and descended from the rocky peak of Olympus. She flew to the island of Ithaca, on the west coast of Greece. There she assumed the form of Mentes, leader of the Taphians, and went to the palace of Odysseus.
Here there was sad confusion. Beautiful Penelope, daughter of Icarius, and her young son Telemachus had not been able to remain masters in their own house. When Odysseus failed to return, long after the news of the fall of Troy and the homecoming of other heroes had reached Ithaca, the rumor of his death spread and was given more and more credence. Penelope was looked on as a young and wealthy widow, and she attracted many suitors. Twelve rich lords came from Ithaca alone, twenty-four from the neighboring island of Same, twenty from Zacynthus, and from Dulichium fifty-two. Besides these, there were among their retinue a singer and a herald, two expert cooks, and a large following of slaves. All the lords courted Penelope and used up the stores of absent Odysseus. For over three years they had eaten, drunk, made merry, and lived on the fat of his land.
When Athene arrived in the shape of Mentes, she found the suitors playing draughts in front of the palace. They were seated on the hides of cattle they had taken from the stalls of Odysseus. Heralds and servants went among them, mixing wine and water in bowls, cutting and serving meat, and cleaning the tables with sponges. Telemachus, the son of the house, sat among the suitors with a sad heart and thought of his father. He longed for him to come and drive out the throng of arrogant wastrels. When he saw Mentes, he ran forward to greet him, clasped his right hand in welcome, and asked him into the house. They entered the great hall, and Telemachus took the stranger’s lance and leaned it against the spear rack. Then he led his guest to a chair covered with soft tapestry and put a footstool under his feet. He himself sat beside him. A woman slave brought water in a golden pitcher for the stranger to wash his hands. Then meat and bread were served and the cups filled with wine. Soon after, the suitors joined them and began to eat and drink with much gusto. Then they demanded music. The herald handed Phemius, the singer, his graceful lyre, and he plucked the strings and chanted his tale.
While the suitors listened, Telemachus turned his head to his guest and whispered in his ear: “My friend, I shall unburden my heart to you, if I may. Do you see how these men are wasting the fortune of my father, whose bones are perhaps at the bottom of the sea, or rotting on an alien shore? I fear he will never return to punish them. But tell me where you come from, who you are, and the names of your parents. Perhaps you were a friend of my father’s?”
“I am Mentes, son of Anchialus,” answered Athene. “I rule the island of Taphos and have come here by ship to barter iron for copper in Temese. Ask Laertes, your grandfather, who, they say, is eating out his heart in sorrow far from the city, and he will tell you that from time immemorial our houses have been bound by the ties of hospitality. I came because I thought your father had returned. I see he has not, but I am sure he is living! Perhaps he has been shipwrecked on some savage island and is held captive there. But my spirit, which can look into the future, tells me that it will not be for long. He will soon be released and return to his country. You are your father’s true son, dear Telemachus! How you resemble him in your features, above all your eyes! I knew your father well before he left for Troy. Since then I have not seen him. But tell me, what are all these people doing in your house? Are you celebrating a wedding, or is this some other festive banquet?”
Telemachus answered him with a sigh: “All these men you see are courting my mother and eating us out of house and home. We may have been prosperous once, but now everything is changed. My mother cannot bear the thought of marrying again, but while she refuses her consent, she cannot get rid of her suitors, who are consuming our substance and will soon bring me to ruin.”
The goddess replied in sorrowful but angry tones: “How much you need your father! Let me counsel you how to drive this swarm of wooers from your palace. Speak to them tomorrow and bid them return to their homes. Tell your mother that if she wishes to marry again, she should go to her father. In his house, the wedding can be arranged, and there they can see to her dowry. You yourself, however, make ready your best ship. Take twenty oarsmen and set out to look for your father. First go to Pylos and question Nestor. If he cannot tell you anything, go on to Sparta, to Menelaus, for he was the last of the Argives to reach home. If you learn from him that your father is alive, then have patience one more year. But if you hear that he has died, return home, make offerings to the dead, and heap him a burial mound. If the suitors are still in your house, you must kill them openly or by guile. For you are no longer a boy who needs a guardian. Have you not heard of the glory Orestes won by slaying Aegisthus, who had murdered his father? You are tall and strong. Conduct yourself accordingly and see to it that later generations have nothing but praise for you!” Telemachus thanked his guest for his fatherly counsel and wanted to give him a gift in parting. But Mentes promised to come again and take it with him on his way back to his own country. Then he, who was Athene, vanished. Like a bird she flew upward, and Telemachus trembled, for now he guessed that he had been talking to an immortal.
In the meantime, Phemius had been singing of the perilous homeward journey of the Achaeans. Lonely Penelope sat in her chamber, and the song drifted up to her. She veiled herself and with two of her tirewomen descended to the great hall. There she went up to the singer and said: “You know many joyful tales, Phemius. Gladden the hearts of my guests with them, but do not sing of matters which torment me and wring my soul. For even without your song, I do nothing but think of the man whose fame has travelled over all of Greece, and who has not come home.”
But Telemachus spoke kindly to his mother. “Do not reprove the singer for giving voice to what kindles his soul at the moment,” he said. “Let him sing of the Danai. Odysseus is not the only one who has not returned. Think how many others have perished. And you, dear mother, go back to your chamber and direct your women in spinning and weaving. Giving orders is the business of men and above all mine, for I am master in this house.”
Penelope was surprised to hear such determined words from her son who seemed suddenly to have ripened into manhood. She returned to her room and mourned her husband in solitude. When she was gone, Telemachus joined the suitors, who were reeling and shouting over their cups, and called aloud: “Enjoy the feast, but do not make so much noise! It takes silence to delight in song. Tomorrow I shall call an assembly of the Achaeans, and then I shall demand that each of you return to his own home before you have entirely used up my father’s property.”
The suitors scowled and bit their lips at the resolute speech of the young man. But they stubbornly rejected his suggestion to woo Penelope at the house of her father, Icarius. After much wrangling and jeering they retired to their couches, and Telemachus too went to rest.
The next morning he rose early, slung his sword over his shoulder, left his room, and ordered the herald to summon the citizens of Ithaca to a council. The suitors were also asked to attend. When the people had gathered, the young prince appeared before them, lance in hand. Pallas Athene had made him taller and so handsome that all those who saw him were struck with wonder. Even old men reverently made way for him as he strode toward the chair of his father Odysseus. The first to speak was Aegyptius, who was bent with age and rich in experience. His eldest son Antiphus had gone to Troy with Odysseus and been killed on the journey home. His second son Eurynomus was one of the suitors, and his two youngest sons still lived in their father’s house. Aegyptius faced the assembly and said: “We have not come together since Odysseus went away. Who is it that has summoned us now? Is it an old or a young man, and why has he called us? Has he heard of foes approaching? Has he something to propose for the welfare of our country? In any case, I believe he has honest intentions, and I ask Zeus to bless his purpose.”
Telemachus rejoiced in the happy omen he saw in these words. He rose and took the scepter which Peisenor, the herald, handed him. Then he turned to Aegyptius and said: “Noble old man, he who has summoned you stands, before you. It is I who am in trouble and need. First, I lost my father who was once your king, and now my heritage is being wasted so that soon nothing will be left. My mother Penelope is pressed by unwelcome suitors. They refuse to woo her in her father’s house, as I have proposed to them. Day after day they slaughter our cattle and sheep and drink the wine sealed in our jars. What can I do against so many? You suitors, do you not realize you are wrong? Do you not fear these citizens and the vengeance of the gods? Did my father ever offend you? Have I myself ever done you harm which would entitle you to take what is mine in recompense? No, you have caused me sorrow through no fault of my own.”
So said Telemachus, and bursting into angry tears he threw his scepter on the ground. The suitors had listened in silence, and no one except Antinous, son of Eupeithes, ventured to reply. He, however, rose and cried: “Defiant boy, how dare you malign us! It is not we who are to blame, but your mother! She has been deceiving us! Three years have passed; the fourth is almost up, and still she scoffs at our wooing. She shows favor now to this one and now to that, but her true thoughts are quite different. We have discovered her ruse! She began weaving a large web and announced to us, her assembled suitors: “The wedding shall wait until I have finished weaving the shroud for my husband’s old father, Laertes, so that no Achaean woman can ever say his body was not clad as befits a king.’ This devout pretext of hers won us over. We consented to wait. She really sat at her loom all day and worked at her weaving, but at night, by torch-light, she secretly unravelled everything she had woven by day. In this way she put us off for three years. But finally one of her handmaids, who spied on her, told us the truth, and then we ourselves surprised her as she was undoing her work, and forced her to finish the shroud. So our answer to you, Telemachus, is this: send your mother to her father, if you wish. But command her to marry the man her father and she herself may choose. If she prefers to go on deceiving us and putting us off, we shall go on living on your stores. In any case, we shall not return to our homes until your mother has taken a husband.”
Then Telemachus replied: “I cannot compel my mother, who bore and reared me, to leave my home against her will, Antinous. Neither Icarius, her father, nor the gods would approve such a course. If you have any sense of fairness at all, provide your banquets from your own stores. Let each take his turn in feasting the rest. If it pleases you better to devour the means of one man without attempting to pay back what you have taken—do so. But I shall implore Zeus and the immortals to help me deal out to you your just deserts.”
While Telemachus was speaking, Zeus sent him a sign. Two eagles soared down from the mountains on widespread pinions. First they flew side by side, and then they circled each other. When they were directly above the assemblage, they looked down threateningly and began to tear at each other’s throats and heads. Then they swept upward to the right and winged over Ithaca. Halitherses, the aged soothsayer versed in reading the future from the flight of birds, interpreted this as an omen of destruction for the suitors. He claimed Odysseus was alive and near, and that his coming would spell death for them. But Eurymachus, son of Polybus, scoffed at the old man and said: “Go home and tell your own children what fate is in store for them, foolish old man! You will not trouble us with your prophecies. Many birds fly around in the beams of the sun, and they do not all foretell something. There is nothing more certain than that Odysseus has died far from his native land.” And the other suitors applauded his words and insisted that Penelope should go to her father’s house and choose a husband.
Telemachus made no further effort to persuade them otherwise. He asked the people of Ithaca for a swift ship with twenty oarsmen, for he wanted to set out for Pylos and Sparta to seek news of his father. If he were alive, Telemachus would wait another year. If he were dead, he would urge his mother to marry again. And now Mentor, the friend of Odysseus, to whom he had entrusted the welfare of his house while he was fighting for Troy, rose in council. Angrily he turned toward the suitors and said: “It would be no wonder if a king lost his sense of justice and treated his people with cruelty! They do not deserve any better! Who among you remembers Odysseus, who was always kind to you and ruled over you like a father? Are you not letting these suitors squander his substance unhindered? They are hardly to blame, for they are encouraged by rumors that Odysseus will never return. But the people of Ithaca are to blame because they are silent and do not even attempt to curb the suitors with a single word, although they are in the majority.”
At that, Leocritus, one of the boldest of Penelope’s wooers, jeered at Mentor and said: “Just let Odysseus come if he likes, old mischief-maker! We shall see if he can get the better of us! And believe me, Penelope herself, much as she yearns for him, would be least pleased if he were actually to appear. I’ll luck would soon overtake him! And now let us leave this meeting. Mentol and Halitherses will do to speed Telemachus on his journey. But what do you wager that he will be here for weeks to come, and wait safe in Ithaca for news of his father? I am sure he will never start for Pylos!”
The assembly broke up speedily and with a great deal of noise. The people of Ithaca returned to their houses and occupations, and the suitors sat at their ease at the board of Odysseus.
TELEMACHUS AND NESTOR
Telemachus went down to the shore. He washed his hands in the surf of the sea and called to the god who had come to him in human shape the day before. At his prayer, Pallas Athene approached him in the shape of Mentor, his father’s friend, and said: “If the spirit of your father, wise Odysseus, has not wholly forsaken you, stir up your soul to action and carry out your decision. I, your father’s friend, will see to it that a swift ship is prepared for you, and I will accompany you myself.” Telemachus, who thought he had heard the counsel of Mentor, hastened toward the palace, firmly resolved to set out on his journey. On the way he met Antinous, who caught at his hand laughingly and said: “Why so rebellious and gloomy? Come, eat and drink with us as you did before. Let the citizens see to your ship and its crew, and when everything is ready, sail to Pylos if you like.”
But Telemachus replied: “No, Antinous. I can no longer sit at the same board with you. I am not a boy any more. From now on, whether I go or stay, you shall deal with a full-grown man. But I will go, and nothing shall keep me!” And as he spoke, he withdrew his hand and hurried to his father’s storerooms where gold and bronze were kept, where costly tunics filled the chests and flasks of fragrant oil and big jars of old wine were set up around the walls. All these things were under the care of Euryclea, an old serving-woman. When he had entered and closed and bolted the doors behind him, he said to her: “Quick, fill twelve two-handled jars with the choicest wine and seal them well. Then pour twenty measures of barley-meal into well-sewn skins, and put everything together. Before nightfall, but after my mother has gone to her sleeping-chamber, I shall fetch everything. Do not tell her that I have gone to look for my father until twelve days have passed, unless she asks for me before that.” Euryclea wept at his going, but promised to do as he had asked.
Meantime Athene had assumed the shape of Telemachus, enlisted men for the journey, and borrowed a ship from Noemon, a wealthy citizen of Ithaca. Then she dazed the minds of the suitors. The cups dropped from their hands, and they fell into a deep sleep. When she had done this, she again appeared as Mentor, joined Telemachus, and urged him not to put off his departure. Swiftly they went to the shore where they found the ship and the crew. They had ample provisions stored in the hold and then went aboard. When the waves were already lapping the keel and the wind swelled the sails, they poured a libation to the gods and all night sped over the sea with a favorable breeze.
At sunrise, Pylos, Nestor’s city, lay before their eyes. The people had come down to the shore in nine groups, each of which sacrificed nine black bulls to the god of the sea. They burned the offering to Poseidon and prepared to feast on the meat. When the men from Ithaca landed, Athene in the guise of Mentor led Telemachus into the center of the ring where Nestor sat with his sons.
Servants went back and forth preparing the board, while others turned the meat on the roasting-spits. As soon as the Pylians saw strangers come ashore they thronged to meet them, clasped their hands in greeting, and pressed Telemachus to sit beside their king. Peisistratus, Nestor’s son, who was as young as Telemachus, greeted him and Mentor with the warmest hospitality and bade them take a seat of honor on the thick, soft fleeces, between Nestor and his son Thrasymedes. Then he set before them the choicest pieces of meat, filled two golden cups with wine, drank to them, and said to the old man who was Athene: “Pour a libation to Poseidon, O stranger, and tell your younger friend to do likewise. For mortals are in need of the favor of the gods.” Athene took the cup, begged Poseidon to bless Nestor, his sons, and his people, and prayed that he might help Telemachus accomplish what he had set out to do. Then she poured the wine out on the sand and told the son of Odysseus to do the same.
When they had eaten and drunk, old Nestor graciously asked the strangers where they had come from and what was the object of their journey. Telemachus replied to both questions, and when he began to speak of his father he sighed and said: “Up to now our attempts to find out what has happened to him have been in vain. We do not know whether he died on the mainland, at the hands of foes, or drowned in an angry sea. And so I beg you to tell me what you know. Perhaps you yourself witnessed his death, or heard of it from travellers. Do not spare us from a sense of pity, but tell us the truth.”
“Now that you speak of those mournful years, I shall tell you the whole tale,” answered Nestor. And—after the fashion of old men—he began very far back. First he named the heroes who had died near the walls of Troy. He told of the quarrel between the two sons of Atreus, and finally of his own journey home. Of Odysseus he knew just as little as Telemachus himself. But he related the story of Agamemnon’s death in Mycenae, and the vengeance of Orestes. In the end he advised Telemachus to go to Sparta, to King Menelaus, who had only just returned from a distant land on whose coast a storm had wrecked his ship. Since he had been on his homeward journey longer than any other Argive hero, he was the most likely to have heard something, somewhere, of the fate of Odysseus.
Athene approved Nestor’s counsel and said: “While we have been talking with one another, darkness has fallen. Permit my young friend to accompany you to your palace and sleep there. I myself will see to the ship and spend the night aboard. In the morning I shall sail to the Cauconians, where I have a debt to collect. But I beg you to send my friend Telemachus to Sparta with one of your sons and to give him your swiftest horses.”
So saying, Athene suddenly changed into a sea-eagle and soared into the sky. All gazed after her in astonishment and Nestor took Telemachus by the hand and said: “You have no cause to be sad, for, young as you are, gods protect you and walk at your side. Your companion was Athene, the daughter of Zeus, who also favored your father above all the other Achaeans.” Then the old man prayed to the goddess, promised to sacrifice a yearling heifer to her the next morning, and, with his sons and the husbands of his daughters, conducted his guest to the palace in Pylos. Here a last libation was poured and the cup passed from one to the other. Then they lay down to sleep. For Telemachus, a couch had been prepared in the great hall, and next to him lay Peisistratus, Nestor’s brave son.
At the first pale light of dawn Nestor rose, went to the threshold, and seated himself on one of the polished stones which were placed on either side of the door. His own father, Neleus, had liked to sit there. Presently his six sons joined him, and the last to come, Peisistratus, brought with him the guest from Ithaca, lordly Telemachus. And now the heifer, which Nestor had pledged the goddess, was led to the palace. Laerces, the goldsmith, was summoned to gild her horns. Slaves fetched wood and fresh water and prepared the sumptuous board. Up from the shore came the comrades of Telemachus. Two of Nestor’s sons held the cow by her gilded horns. Another brought a basin and barley for the offering, a fourth the ax to strike down the victim, a fifth held the bowl to catch its blood. When the animal had been felled with the ax, Peisistratus, the sixth son, cut its throat, while Nestor’s wife and daughters prayed to the gods. The best pieces were burned as an offering to Athene, and on them dark wine was poured. The rest was put on spits and roasted.
Meanwhile Telemachus refreshed himself in a warm bath, and now appeared clad in a splendid tunic and a costly mantle. While all feasted, the best and fleetest horses were harnessed to take the guest to Sparta. A servant put wine and provisions into the chariot which Telemachus mounted. Up beside him sprang Peisistratus, and he took the reins and swung the goad. The horses flew along the road, and soon Pylos was left behind. All day long they drove, and the horses did not tire.
When the sun was about to set and all the roads grew dark, they came to the city of Pherae, where an Argive hero by the name of Diocles, son of Ortilochus, had his house. He received the two with warm hospitality and they spent the night with him. The following morning they drove on between fields of wheat and on the next evening came to the great city of Lacedaemon or Sparta, flanked on all sides by steep, jagged mountains.
TELEMACHUS IN SPARTA
King Menelaus was holding a feast in his palace in Sparta. Among the throng of his neighbors and relatives a singer was plucking the strings of his lyre. Tumblers kept the guests amused with their agile leaps and somersaults, Menelaus was celebrating the betrothal of two of his children, Hermione, Helen’s daughter, who was to be the bride of Neoptolemus, son of Achilles, and Megapenthes, Menelaus’ son by a slave woman, whom the king was giving in marriage to a well-born Spartan girl. In the midst of the joyful tumult, Telemachus and Peisistratus arrived and were announced to Menelaus by Eteoneus, one of his warriors, who asked whether the horses of the strangers were to be unharnessed, or whether, because of the great crowd of guests, the two young men should be sent to the house of another. “Eteoneus!” exclaimed Menelaus. “What foolish talk is this? You know how many times I have enjoyed the hospitality of others, and that I should never turn a stranger from my door for any reason whatsoever. Have their horses unyoked at once, and invite them in to the feast.”
Eteoneus quickly left the hall with a number of servants. They unharnessed the sweating horses and walked them to the stable, where the manger had already been filled. The chariot was set against the white wall near the entrance. The guests were conducted to the palace, where a bath had been prepared to cleanse them of the dust of the journey. Then they were taken to King Menelaus, who bade them sit beside him at the board. Telemachus was astonished at the splendor of the hall and the abundance and richness of the fare set before them. “Look, Peisistratus,” he whispered to his friend. “Look at all that flashing bronze, gold, silver, and ivory! What priceless treasure! Zeus’ palace on Olympus cannot be more magnificent!”
Telemachus had lowered his voice, but Menelaus had caught the last few words. “No mortal can compete with Zeus,” he said smilingly. “His palace and all he possesses is imperishable. But it is true that among mortals it might be difficult to find one who could vie with me in wealth. For what I have, I have collected by wanderings and hardships. It took me eight years to come home. I was in Cyprus, Phoenicia, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Libya. Now there is a country for you! The lambs are born with horns on their heads. The sheep bear young three times a year, and neither masters nor herdsmen ever lack meat or milk and cheese. But while I was collecting treasure in many lands, my brother in Mycenae was killed by the guile of his faithless wife, so that I cannot enjoy these possessions with a light heart. You must have heard all these things from your fathers—whoever they may be. Believe me, I should be satisfied with a third of what I own, if only the heroes who fell at Troy were still alive! And there is one, in particular, whom I mourn so bitterly that the thought of him makes food lose its savor and troubles my sleep. For no Argive had to suffer as greatly as Odysseus. I do not even know whether he is living or dead. Perhaps his people are mourning his death by now—his old father Laertes, Penelope, his faithful wife, and his son Telemachus, who was a small child when his father left for the war.”
So spoke Menelaus, and he moved the heart of Telemachus so that the tears fell from under his lashes and he hid his eyes in his crimson robe. At that the king of Sparta knew that he must be the son of Odysseus.
While he was pondering this, Helen came from her fragrant chamber, and her beauty was like that of a goddess. A throng of lovely handmaids surrounded her. One placed a chair for her, another spread a fleecy rug beneath it, while a third brought her the silver basket she had once received from the queen of Thebes in Egypt. It was filled with spun yarn, and a spindle with violet wool lay on top. The queen seated herself in the chair, put her feet on a stool, and began to ask her husband about the strangers who had recently arrived. “Nowhere in the world have I seen anyone who looked so exactly like noble Odysseus as does this youth,” she said softly to Menelaus, and he answered: “That is just how it seems to me! Hands and feet, the expression of the eyes, the way the hair grows—all resembles him! Besides, the young man wept a short time ago when I spoke of Odysseus.”
Peisistratus had heard them talking and now said aloud: “You have guessed right, King Menelaus. This is Telemachus, the son of Odysseus. But he is too modest to tell you himself. Nestor, my father, sent us here together to see if Telemachus cannot find out what has become of his father.”
“Indeed!” exclaimed Menelaus. “Then my guest is really the son of my dearest friend, of the man whom I should receive with the warmest hospitality if he were here on his way home, in his own person!” And as the king went on to speak of Odysseus with words of love and longing, all who heard him shed tears—Helen, Telemachus, Menelaus himself, and even the son of Nestor who was reminded of his own brother Antilochus, who had died in saving his father before the walls of Troy.
But after a time they remembered how useless and joyless a thing it is to grieve at a feast. They finished their meal, and after the servants had poured water for their hands, prepared to go to their couches. But Helen, the daughter of Zeus, who was versed in magic, cast into the last round of wine a herb which blots out the memory of pain and eases all sorrow. Anyone who drank of the draught so blended would shed no tear for a whole day, not even if his father or mother died, or if his son or brother were slain by a foe before his very eyes. So they all grew merry and talked far into the night. Crimson blankets were spread for the guests on the couches in the portico, but Menelaus and Helen slept in the inmost chamber of the palace.
The next morning the king asked his guests the purpose of their journey. When he heard about the suitors and the state of affairs in Ithaca; he said indignantly: “And those wretches plan to take the place of great Odysseus! Even as the lion returns to his lair, in which a hind has laid to sleep her young while he was away in a fertile valley, so Odysseus will come back and put an end to them—an end full of terror! Listen, and I will tell you what Proteus, the old man of the sea, told me in Egypt. Under my hands he took on one shape after another, but finally I got the better of him and forced him to reveal the destinies of the Argive heroes who were on their homeward journey. ‘In my mind’s eye,’ said the god, ‘I see Odysseus shedding tears of longing on a lonely island. The nymph Calypso is keeping him there against his will, and he has neither a ship nor oarsmen to take him home to his native land.’ This is all I can tell you about your father. Stay with us eleven or twelve days, and when you go we shall give you precious gifts in parting.”
Telemachus thanked him, but he did not consent to remain. Then Menelaus gave him a mixing-bowl of silver, with a rim of gold. It was of incomparable beauty, the work of Hephaestus himself. And an abundant morning meal of the meat of goats and sheep was prepared for the guests.
THE SUITORS’ PLOT
While Telemachus was away in Pylos and Sparta, the suitors on the island of Ithaca, in the palace of Odysseus, continued their bouts and amused themselves with throwing the discus and the spear. One day, when Antinous and Eurymachus, the strongest and handsomest among them, were sitting a little apart from the rest, Noemon, son of Phronius, went up to them and said: “Do you know when Telemachus is expected back from Pylos? The ship on which he is making his journey is mine. I lent it to him, but now I need it myself to sail to Elis. I keep mares there for breeding, and I want to fetch a colt to tame it and train it.”
The two suitors were surprised, for they did not even know that Telemachus had left. They thought he had retired to his property in the country, where he had herds of goats and swine. Now they jumped at the conclusion that he had forced Noemon to give him his ship. But the man denied this. “I gave it to him of my own free will,” he said. “Who would refuse an act of friendship to one who is in trouble? That would have been unfeeling and harsh. Besides, he was accompanied by noble youths, and Mentor went with them as their guide—or was it perhaps a god in the guise of Mentor? For now that I come to think of it, I saw Mentor himself here only yesterday!” So saying, Noemon left the suitors and went back to his father’s house.
But Antinous and Eurymachus were astonished and vexed at this unexpected news. They rose and joined the others who were seated in a circle, resting from their games. Seething with anger, Antinous cried to them with flashing eyes: “This Telemachus has gone on his quest. He has undertaken the journey we refused to believe in. May Zeus destroy him before he does us any harm! Give me a swift-sailing boat, friends, with twenty oarsmen, and I shall lie in wait for him in the strait between Ithaca and Same, so that his voyage of exploration may end in death.” All acclaimed his plan and promised to get him everything he required. Then the suitors withdrew into the palace.
But there was one who spied on the council they held there. It was Medon, the herald, who hated the shameless suitors, even though he performed services for them. He had stood outside, but close enough to hear every word they said, and now he hurried to Penelope to report their plot to the queen. Her knees shook as she listened. For a long time she was speechless with distress. Her breath failed her, her eyes filled with tears. “Oh, why did my son have to go?” she burst out at last. “Is it not enough that his father has perished? Shall the name of our house be blotted from the earth?” And when Medon could give her no explanation, she sank weeping on the threshold of her chamber, and her handmaids lamented with her. “Why did he go without telling me?” cried Penelope. “I would have advised him against this journey! Call Dolius, my old servant, and tell him to go to Laertes and give him this sad news. Perhaps that old and experienced man will think of something we can do.”
Then Euryclea, the old serving-woman, opened her lips and said: “I shall not hide it from you any longer, my queen, even if you kill me for keeping silence up to now. I knew of his going. I myself gave him everything he needed for his voyage. He made me swear not to tell before the twelfth day, unless you yourself noticed his absence. But now I advise you to bathe and adorn yourself, and to pray for protection for your son at the altar of Athene, daughter of Zeus.”
Penelope did as the old woman had counselled. When she had pleaded for the safety of Telemachus in solemn prayers, she lay down to sleep. And in a dream Athene sent her Iphthime, her sister, the wife of the hero Eumelus. Iphthime comforted her and promised that her son would return. “Be of good courage,” she said. “Your son has a guide whom all other men would envy him. Pallas Athene herself goes at his side. She will protect him against the suitors. It is she who has sent me to you in your dream.” So said the vision and vanished through the bolted door. And Penelope woke from her sleep filled with courage and gladness.
Meantime the suitors had prepared their ship, and Antinous boarded it with twenty sturdy oarsmen. A rocky island with many jutting cliffs lay in the middle of the strait which separated Ithaca and Same. Toward this island the suitors steered and waited for Telemachus, hidden from sight in an inlet.
ODYSSEUS LEAVES CALYPSO AND IS SHIPWRECKED
Hermes, the messenger of Zeus, stepped from the upper air and swooped down upon the sea, skimmed the waves like a sea-gull, and sped to Ogygia, Calypso’s realm, as the gods had commanded. He found the fair-tressed nymph at home. A fire was burning on her hearth, and the spicy fragrance of split cedar logs drifted over the island. Calypso was singing sweetly in her chamber, while she wove an exquisite web with a shuttle of gold. Her grotto stood in a grove green with alder, poplar, and cypress, and in the trees nested bright-colored birds and also hawks, owls, and crows. Vines clung to the vaulted rock, and clusters of ripening grapes glistened on the thick-leafed stalks. Four springs rose close to one another and ran a twisting course through meadows strewn with violets, parsley, and pungent herbs.
Hermes stood for a moment and marvelled at the beauty of the island. Then he entered the grotto. Calypso recognized him at once, for though they may live far apart, the gods know each other the moment they meet. Odysseus, however, was not there. He was sitting on the shore, as usual, gazing out over the vast ocean with tears in his yearning eyes.
When Calypso heard Hermes’ message, she was silent for a time and then said mournfully: “O cruel and jealous gods! Do you not suffer an immortal to love a mortal and choose him for her husband? Do you begrudge me the companionship of a man whom I saved from death when he was flung ashore here, clinging to a plank? His ship had been struck by lightning, and all his friends had sunk to the bottom of the sea. I received the poor castaway with great kindness. I fed him and tended him and held out to him the boon of immortality and eternal youth. But since it is impossible to disobey the command of Zeus, let him go out to sea again. But do not expect me to send him away myself, for I have neither ships nor oarsmen. I can give him nothing but good advice on how to reach his native land unharmed.”
Hermes was well-pleased with her answer and hastened back to Olympus. But Calypso went to the shore, came close to Odysseus, and said: “You need no longer sorrow here, your eyes clouded with tears. I shall let you go. Come, hew timbers for a raft. Fasten cross-planks upon it and build a raised deck. I myself shall provide you with water, wine, and food. I shall give you clothing and launch a favorable wind from the land. And may the gods send you safely home!”
Odysseus looked at the goddess suspiciously and said: “I fear you have something quite different in mind! Never shall I board a mere fragile raft until you swear to me with the oath of the gods that you are not plotting to do me harm.”
But Calypso smiled, gently passed her hand over his hair, and replied: “Do not torture yourself with idle fears. The earth, the sky, and the Styx shall be witness to my oath that I do not wish you ill. I am only advising you to do what I myself should do were I in your position.” With these words she turned to go, and Odysseus followed her. In the grotto she bade him a tender farewell.
The raft was soon built, and on the fifth day Odysseus embarked with the wind in his sails. He himself sat at the rudder and steered carefully and well. Sleep did not lower his lids. Steadfastly he gazed at the constellations and charted his course according to the signs Calypso had explained to him in parting. For seventeen days his way was smooth. On the eighteenth he sighted the mountains of Scheria. The land lay like a shield in the dull sea.
But now Poseidon, who was just returning from Ethiopia, saw him from the hills of the Solymi. He had not attended the last assembly of the gods, and now realized that they had used his absence to free Odysseus from Calypso’s snares. “Well,” he said to himself, “he shall have plenty of trouble!” And with that he summoned the clouds, churned up the sea with his trident, and called to the tempest to wrap land and sea in darkness. The winds howled around the raft, and Odysseus trembled and groaned aloud that he would rather have died at the hands of the Trojans. While he was lamenting, a wave broke over him and swept his raft into a whirlpool. The rudder slipped from his grasp. The mast, the yards, and the planks drove here and there across the angry waters. Odysseus was washed under, and his wet tunic dragged him down. At last he came up, spat out the brine he had swallowed, and swam toward the floating timbers. He reached the biggest of them and swung himself on it. And as he was cast hither and thither like a thistle in the autumn wind, Leucothea, a sea-goddess, saw him, and her heart filled with pity. Like a sea-fowl she rose up from the deep, perched on the raft, and said: “Listen to what I advise you, Odysseus. Take off your clothes, leave the plank to the storm, wind my veil about you, here under your breast, and then swim, and scorn the terrors of the sea.” Odysseus took the veil, and the goddess vanished. Though he had small faith in her words, he obeyed her directions. Like a rider he sat astride his plank, drew off the tunic Calypso had given him, wound the veil around his body, and slipped into the wild waves.
Gravely Poseidon shook his head when he saw the bold swimmer. “Well then,” he said, “wander through the sea until Zeus sends you aid. You shall still have more than enough to suffer.” With these words the god left the sea and withdrew to his palace. For two days and nights Odysseus was driven through the ocean. At last he saw a wooded shore where the surf pounded against high cliffs. A wave carried him toward the coast before he had time to come to any decision. With both hands he gripped a jutting rock, but another wave cast him back into the sea. He began swimming again, and after a long and almost despairing effort found a small, shallow bay, where a river emptied into the sea. Here he prayed to the god of the river, who heard him and calmed the current and made it possible for him to reach the land. Breathless and exhausted Odysseus sank down. The water gushed from his nose and mouth, and, numb with fatigue, he lost consciousness. When he woke from his faint, he unwound Leucothea’s veil and gratefully flung it back into the waves, that it might return to its owner. Then he threw himself down among the reeds and kissed the earth. He was naked and cold, and he shivered in the grey dawn. Searchingly he looked around and saw a wooded hill. This he climbed and bedded himself under two twisted olive trees, one wild and one tame, and so thickly leafed that neither wind, nor rain, nor the rays of the sun could penetrate the foliage. Here he heaped a bed of leaves, lay down, and covered himself with more leaves. Quickly he fell asleep and forgot the hardships he had suffered, nor did he think of the dangers still in store for him.
While Odysseus slept, Pallas Athene, his patron, busied herself in his behalf. She hastened to the island of Scheria, where the Phaeacians had built their city. They were governed by wise King Alcinous, and it was to his palace that the goddess turned her steps. Here she went to the chamber of Nausicaa, the king’s young daughter, who in loveliness and charm was like the immortals. She was sleeping in a spacious room, and at the doors were two handmaids who kept watch over her. Athene approached the girl’s couch as quietly as a breath of air. She assumed the shape of one of her playmates and said to her in her dream: “What an idler you are! Your mother will not be pleased with you! The cupboard is full of unwashed clothing. What would you do if you were betrothed tomorrow? You would lack clean garments for yourself and for those who escort the bride. So rise with the dawn to wash robes and tunics. I myself will help you, so that the work goes more quickly. You know you will not be single for long. Have not the noblest among your people been courting you these many months?”
The dream came to an end. Swiftly Nausicaa rose from her couch and went to her parents. Her mother was already seated at the hearth, spinning purple thread with her handmaids, but the king met his daughter at the door. He was about to go to a council of lords he had called for that morning. But the girl stopped him, took him by the hand, and said coaxingly: “Dear father, have them make ready a wagon, so that I can take my clothing down to the river to wash it. You too must have clean garments for the council, and your five sons, three of whom are still unwed, always want to look trim and fine for the feast and the dance. And it is I who must attend to all these things.”
So said the girl, for she was too shy to speak of her own betrothal. Her father, however, guessed what was in her mind, and said with a smile: “Go, my child. You shall have a big wagon and mules to draw it. Tell the servants to harness them at once.” Soon after, the girl and her handmaids loaded the wagon. Her mother gave her a goatskin of wine, bread, and other food for the day, and when Nausicaa had swung herself up on the wagon, she added a flask of oil so that she and her maidens could anoint their bodies after the bath. Nausicaa herself took the reins and the goad and guided the mules to the pleasant shore of the river. Here she and her companions unyoked them, let them pasture on the thick grass, and took the clothes to the washing-place, where they put them into trenches dug in the earth for this purpose, which filled with water from the river. Her handmaids washed the clothes and stamped on them to remove the stains. Then they rinsed them and spread them on the bank where the clean pebbles formed a shelf of stone. When all was done, the girls bathed, rubbed their bodies with fragrant oil, merrily ate the food they had brought with them, and waited for the sun to dry their washing.
They decided to while away the time with playing ball in the meadow. They laid aside their headgear, which was a hindrance to swift motion, and Nausicaa, who was taller and fairer than all the others, sang as they played. Finally Nausicaa threw the ball to one of her playmates, but Athene changed its direction so that it fell into the river, where the current was swift and strong. At this the girls gave little shrieks of distress, and Odysseus, who was lying nearby under the olive trees, awoke. He half rose and listened. “Where am I?” he asked himself. “Have I come to savage shores peopled with robbers and murderers? But those are surely the voices of girls, or perhaps nymphs of springs or hills. It may be that I am among friendly people, after all.”
As he was pondering these things in his mind, he reached out with his sinewy right arm and broke a thick-leafed bough from the twisted tree to cover his nakedness. When he emerged from the thicket, holding it in front of him, he seemed like a shaggy lion among all those delicate girls. His hair was still matted with salt foam and seaweed. Taking him for a monster, the girls fled in all directions. Only the daughter of Alcinous remained. Athene had breathed courage into her heart, and bravely she faced the stranger. Odysseus did not know whether to clasp her knees or keep at a distance and ask her to give him clothing and point him the way to the houses of men. He decided that this latter course might be better, and so he called to her: “I do not know whether you are a goddess or a mortal, but whoever you may be, I implore your protection. If you are a goddess, you must be Artemis, for you are lithe and beautiful as she. But if you are a mortal, then your parents and brothers are blessed indeed. Their hearts must dance with delight to have so lovely a daughter and sister. And how happy will he be who takes you home as his wife! But look graciously on me, for I have suffered almost unendurable hardships. Twenty-one days ago I left the island of Ogygia. A storm tossed me about on the ocean and finally cast me ashore here, where I know no one, and no one knows me. Have pity on me. Give me clothing; show me the city you live in, and may the gods give you what your heart desires—a husband, a home, and quiet happiness.”
Nausicaa answered him: “Stranger, you do not look like a base or foolish man. You have turned to me and my country, and you shall lack neither clothing nor whatever else a suppliant has the right to expect. I shall take you to our city and tell you the name of our people. These shores and these fields are inhabited by the Phaeacians, and I am the daughter of Alcinous, their king.” So she spoke and called to her maidens, assuring them that there was no cause to fear the stranger. But they hesitated, and each urged the other to go first. Finally they obeyed their mistress, and while Odysseus washed the salt water from his limbs in a hidden cove, they laid out for him a tunic and a mantle. After he had bathed and anointed himself, he put them on. And Athene made him more stately and handsome. She smoothed his hair, and it curled like the petals of hyacinths, and she shed radiance over his features. Tall and beautiful he left the shelter of the bushes and seated himself at some distance from the girls.
Nausicaa looked at him with wonder and said to her companions: “Surely, all the gods cannot be against this man. One at least must be for him, and has brought him to our coast. How insignificant he seemed when first we caught sight of him, but now he looks like an immortal. If only he were one of our people and Fate had chosen him to be my husband! But now quickly, girls, let us give him food and drink.” And Odysseus satisfied the hunger and thirst he had suffered for so long.
Then the wagon was loaded with the clean garments, the mules were yoked once more, and Nausicaa again took the reins. But she asked the stranger to follow on foot in the company of her handmaids. “Do this,” she said to him with all kindness, “while we go through the fields and meadows. Soon you will see the city. It is circled by a high wall on all sides except where it faces the sea, and there it is protected by a wide harbor with a narrow entrance to it. You will find the market place and a splendid temple to Poseidon, beside which ropes, sailcloth, oars, and other wares for seamen are made and sold. For our people have not much use for bows and arrows; they are a nation of sailors. Now when we approach the town, I should like to avoid cause for idle talk. A peasant might meet us and say: ‘Who is that tall, handsome man following Nausicaa? Where did she pick him up? Most likely she intends to marry a stranger.’ And that would mean disgrace for me. I myself would not like it if a friend of mine were seen with a stranger before the day of her marriage. And so when you come to the grove of poplars which is sacred to Athene, and to the spring which rises there and winds through the meadow, wait for a little while, just until you think we have reached the city. The grove is no farther away than a herald’s call can travel. Then go on. You will easily recognize my father’s palace. Go there, and clasp my mother’s knees. If she feels kindly disposed toward you, you may be certain that you will see the land of your fathers again.”
So said Nausicaa and drove her wagon slowly, so that her companions and Odysseus could follow. At Athene’s grove the hero fell behind and said a fervent prayer to his protectress. The goddess heard him, but she feared the anger of her father’s brother, Poseidon, and so she did not appear.
ODYSSEUS AND THE PHAEACIANS
When Odysseus left the sacred grove, the girl had already arrived in her father’s palace. Athene protected him all the way to the city. For fear that a bold Phaeacian might offend the unarmed stranger, she veiled him in mist, though he himself did not notice this. When he drew near the gates she could not refrain from confronting him, so she assumed the shape of a young girl carrying a pitcher to draw water. “My child,” said Odysseus to her, “would you show me the way to the palace of King Alcinous? I am a stranger from a faraway land, and no one knows me here.”
“Gladly,” said the goddess in the guise of the girl. “My own father lives close by. But walk quietly at my side. The people here are not very fond of strangers. Their adventurous seafaring life has made them bold and defiant.” With these words Athene led the way and Odysseus followed, and no one at all could see the two. He could admire the harbor, the ships, and the high walls undisturbed. Then Athene spoke: “This is the house of Alcinous. Enter without fear. He who is brave, succeeds! But let me give you one piece of advice. Go to the queen before all! Her name is Arete, and she is her own husband’s niece. For our former king, Nausithous, son of Poseidon, and Periboea, daughter of Eurymedon, king of the Giants, had two sons, Alcinous, our king, and Rhexenor. Rhexenor did not live long and left one daughter, Arete, our queen. Alcinous honors her as much as a man can honor a wife, and all the people hold her in reverence too, for she is wise and understanding and can even judge in the quarrels of men. If you can win her favor, all will be well with you.”
So said Athene and hastened away. Odysseus stood motionless, entranced by the beautiful palace before him. It was high, and dazzling as sunlight. On either side of the gate the walls were of solid bronze with a cornice of bluish metal. A golden door closed off the inner house. Its silver posts rose from a threshold of bronze. The lintels were also of silver, and the handle of gold. Dogs of silver and gold, the work of Hephaestus, stood right and left, like palace guards. When Odysseus entered the hall, he saw chairs covered with rich and delicate tapestries. On these the lords of that country sat at the board. The Phaeacians loved much feasting and drinking. On high bases stood the golden statues of youths. Their hands were extended and held burning torches to light the banquet. Fifty women servants were in the palace. Some ground grain in a handmill; others wove, and still others sat and turned the spindle. The women in that country were as good at weaving as the men at sailing. Outside the court was an orchard four acres in size, circled by a fence and planted with trees bearing juicy pears, figs, pomegranates, apples, and olives. There was fruit both winter and summer, for the warm west wind always blew over the land. Often, in the same season, some trees were just bursting into bloom while others were already covered with fruit. Near the orchard was a vineyard with clusters of grapes swelling in the sun. Others were being harvested, and some were still quite green and hard, or just taking on color. At the other end of the garden flowers bloomed and shed their sweet odors, and a spring gushed from the ground and wound through the shrubs and blooms in a crystal stream. Another spring rose at the very threshold of the palace court, and here the people came to fetch water.
When Odysseus had gazed his fill at all these splendors, he entered the palace and went to the king’s great hall. Here the nobles of the land had gathered at a banquet, but because the day was drawing to a close, they were beginning to feel drowsy and were about to end the feast by pouring a libation to Hermes. Shrouded in mist Odysseus traversed the rows of banqueters, but when he reached the king and queen, Athene lifted her hand and the cloud melted from about him. He threw himself down before Queen Arete, clasped her knees, and said: “O Arete, daughter of Rhexenor, as a suppliant I lie before you and your husband. May the gods give you life and happiness as surely as you will give me help to return to my native land! For it is a long time that I have been wandering in exile, far from my own people.”
So said the hero and sat down in the ashes of the hearth, close to the glowing fire. The Phaeacians looked at him in wondering silence. But finally gray-haired Echeneus, oldest among the guests and versed in the ways of the world, turned to the king and spoke. “Truly, Alcinous,” he said, “it is not fitting anywhere on earth that a stranger should sit in the ashes. I am certain that all agree with me and are only awaiting your command. So raise the stranger from the dust and seat him in a comfortable chair, like ourselves. The heralds shall blend wine for a libation to Zeus, the guardian of hospitality, and the servants offer our new guest food and drink.”
The king was well-pleased with these words. He took the stranger by the hand and led him to a chair at his own side, which Laodamas, his favorite son, had to vacate. All was done as Echeneus had advised, and Odysseus feasted with the rest as an honored guest. When a libation to Zeus had been poured, the assemblage broke up, and the king invited them back for the next day. He did not ask the stranger his name or his line, but promised him hospitality in the palace and a safe return home. But as he looked at the hero, on whom Athene had shed a glow of unearthly radiance, he added: “Should you, however, be one of the immortals, who sometimes visit the feasts of men in human form, you will not need our help, and it is we who must ask your protection!”
“Do not believe that for an instant, O king,” said Odysseus. “Neither in stature nor in shape do I resemble the gods of Olympus. I am a mortal like yourself, but an unhappy mortal! Show me the man you think the most luckless on earth, and I shall prove to you that my misfortune exceeds his. When I entered the palace, I thought of nothing but satisfying my hunger at your board, and from this alone you can see that I am a poor mortal man.”
When the guests had left and the king and queen were alone in the hall with the stranger, Arete studied his tunic and mantle and recognized her own workmanship. “I must ask you a question, stranger,” she said. “Will you tell me who you are, from whence you come, and who gave you these garments you are wearing?” Odysseus replied with a truthful account of his stay with Calypso on Ogygia, his disastrous journey, and his encounter with Nausicaa, who had dealt so generously with him.
When he ended, Alcinous smiled. “My daughter did quite right,” he said. “But she was remiss in one point: she should have brought you to us herself.”
“Do not reprove her for that, O king,” said Odysseus. “She was eager to do as you say, but I myself refused, partly out of shyness, and partly because I thought that you might be vexed. For mortals are full of mistrust.”
“Never should I be vexed without reason,” said the king. “But order is good in all things. Now, if it were the will of the gods that a man like yourself should ask my daughter to wife, how gladly would I give you a house and possessions! I shall, however, not keep you here by force. Tomorrow you shall have help to go wherever you wish. I shall give you a ship and oarsmen who will take you to your country, even if it is as far away as the most distant island we traffic with.”
Odysseus received this promise with deep gratitude, bade his royal hosts goodnight, and rested from his hardships on a soft couch.
Early the following morning King Alcinous summoned his people to an assembly in the market place of his city. He took his guest there with him and sat side by side with him on polished stones. In the meantime, Athene, in the shape of a herald, went through the streets, calling the citizens to the council. They streamed from all directions, and the market place soon filled with an eager throng. Admiringly they looked at the son of Laertes, whom Pallas Athene had lent more than human majesty and stature. In a solemn speech, the king commended the stranger to his people and asked them to put at his disposal a good ship with fifty-two Phaeacian oarsmen. He also invited the lords to a banquet in honor of his guest and gave orders that Demodocus, to whom Apollo had given the power of song, should attend to gladden the hearts of his guests with his verses.
When the assembly was dissolved, the oarsmen made ready the black ship, as the king had commanded. They brought the mast, attached the shining sails and spread them wide, and rested the oars in leather loops. Then they went to the palace. The halls and the courts were already swarming with guests, for young and old had come. Twelve sheep, eight boars, and two oxen had been slaughtered for the feast, and the smell of roasting meat hung in the air. The singer too had arrived, led by the herald, for to Demodocus the Muses had given both good and ill. They had taken from him the light of his eyes, but had lit his heart with song. The herald guided him to a chair at the pillar in the middle of the hall. He put his lyre where the blind man could easily reach it, and set before him a table with food and a brimming cup. When the feasting was over, the singer began his tale. He sang of the heroes of Troy whose fame had already spread over the world, and above all of the courage of two heroes whose names were on all lips, Achilles and Odysseus.
When the son of Laertes heard his own name celebrated in song, he hid his face in his mantle that no one might see the tears which rose to his eyes. Whenever Demodocus paused, he lifted his head and reached for the cup. But when the singer went on with his story, he again veiled his face. No one noticed this except the king who sat beside him and heard him heave a deep sigh. Since he did not wish to sadden his guest, he bade the singer put an end to his recital and announced that there were also to be contests in honor of the stranger. “Our guest,” he said, “shall tell his people at home that the Phaeacians excel in wrestling and boxing, as well as in jumping and racing.” At that, everyone left the board and hastened to the market place. There was a throng of noble youths, among them three sons of Alcinous, Laodamas, Halius, and Clytoneus. These three opened the games with a foot race on the sand-strewn course which stretched as far as eye could reach. At a given sign they stormed forward, and the dust swirled under their flying feet. Clytoneus soon outstripped his brothers and was first to reach the goal. Next came the wrestling match, and here young Euryalus was victorious. In the jump, Amphialus outdid his rivals; in hurling the discus, Elatreus won, and in boxing, Laodamas, the king’s favorite son.
And now Laodamas rose and said to the young men: “Should we not ask if the stranger is versed in one or another of our sports? His body, his thighs, and his feet promise well. His arms are sinewy, his neck is strong, and he is of powerful build. It is true that hardship and grief have left their mark on him, but he still seems full of the strength of youth.”
“You are right,” said Euryalus. “Ask him yourself, O prince, and invite him to join in the games.” This Laodamas did with courtesy and warmth.
But Odysseus replied: “Are you doing this to mock me? Sorrow gnaws at my soul, and I have no heart for games. I have worked and suffered enough, and now I want nothing but to return to my native land.”
Euryalus was ill-pleased with this answer. “Stranger,” he said, “you do not act like a man who is skilled in our games. You are, most likely, a captain or a merchant, but certainly no athlete!”
Odysseus frowned at him and said: “These are rude words, my friend, and you are a forward boy. But the gods do not give beauty and grace, and wisdom and eloquence besides, all to one man! Many a person is insignificant to look at, but his words cast a spell, so that all who hear him are enchanted. Such a man stands out in assembly and is honored like an immortal. On the other hand, there are those who look like gods, but their words lack charm and spirit. Still, I know something about contests, and when I was young and strong, I did not hesitate to measure my strength with the boldest. Now, to be sure, battles and sufferings have weakened me. But you have challenged me, and so I shall try.”
So said Odysseus and rose from his seat without laying aside his mantle. He chose a discus, larger, thicker, and heavier than any the Phaeacian youths had thrown, and hurled it with such vigor that the stone hummed through the air. The men near him drew back as he cast, and the discus flew far beyond the target. Quickly Athene, in the guise of a Phaeacian youth, made a mark where it had fallen and cried: “A blind man could find this mark, for it is far beyond all the rest. In this contest you will surely be the victor!”
Odysseus felt glad to think that he had such a true friend among the people and said with a lighter heart: “Well, young men, cast as far as that, if you can! And you, over there, who insulted me, come here, and I shall take part in whatever contest you like. I shall compete with each and every one, but not with Laodamas—for who wants to fight his host? My special accomplishment is shooting with the bow, and no matter how many competed with me, I should be the first to hit the target. I know of only one who can do better than I—Philoctetes. He often beat me at Troy when we practiced shooting. And I am just as expert at throwing the javelin. I can cast it as far as another shoots an arrow. But in the foot race, some of you will probably excel me. The sea has sapped too much of my strength, especially those many days I sat on my raft without food.”
When the young men heard this, they fell silent. But now the king spoke. “You have shown us your strength, stranger,” he said. “And from this moment on, no one shall question your power. But when you sit at home with your wife and children, remember that we too are sturdy and skilled. We are not great boxers and wrestlers, but we are splendid runners and excellent sailors. As for feasting, plucking the strings, and dancing—we are past masters at that! With us you will find the most beautiful garments, the most refreshing bath, and the softest couch. Come then, dancers and singers! Show this stranger what you can do, so that he may praise you when he reaches his country. And do not forget to bring the lyre of Demodocus!”
Nine chosen men levelled the ground for the dance and staked off the space for the performance. The lyre player advanced toward the center, and the dance began. Boys in the first bloom of youth moved in perfect rhythm, leaping on light feet. Odysseus was filled with wonder. Never had he seen so charming a dance. And the singer, meanwhile, chanted merry episodes from the lives of the gods. When the dance was over, the king bade his son Laodamas dance with lithe Halius, for these two were the best, and no one dared vie with them. They took a purple ball. One leaned backward and threw it high up, and the other leaped and caught it in the air before his feet touched the ground again. Then they swung around each other with effortless grace, always casting the ball, and the other young men, who formed a ring about them, clapped their hands in time. Odysseus was full of admiration. He turned to the king and said: “Alcinous, you may, indeed, boast that you have the most agile dancers in the world. There is no one who can surpass your people in this art.”
Alcinous was well-pleased with his guest’s praise. “Did you hear?” he called to the Phaeacians. “Did you hear what this stranger has to say about you? He is a man of good judgment and certainly merits a substantial gift. Each of the twelve princes of our land—and I myself as the thirteenth—shall bring a mantle, a tunic, and a talent of gold. Then let us put all these things together and present them as one parting gift, which will surely gladden his heart. And in addition to this, Euryalus shall address friendly words to him, so that he may not bear us the slightest grudge.” All the Phaeacians loudly acclaimed his words. A herald was sent to collect the gifts. And Euryalus took his sword with the silver hilt and sheath of ivory and offered it to the guest, saying: “If I have said anything to offend you, let the winds blow it away. And may the gods grant you a safe journey home. We all wish you welfare and happiness!”
“May you never repent of this gift!” said Odysseus as he slung the beautiful sword over his shoulder. It was sunset by the time the presents were all gathered in and laid down before the queen. Alcinous asked her for a well-wrought chest, and into this the garments and the gold were laid. Then it was carried into the palace for Odysseus, and the king, who had gone there with all his retinue, added still more sumptuous robes and an exquisite cup of gold. While a bath was being prepared for the guest, the queen showed him the contents of the chest and then said: “See how the lid is fastened, and then close the chest yourself, so that no one can rob you while you sleep.” Odysseus closed the lid carefully and secured the chest with intricate knots. Then he refreshed himself in the bath and was just about to join the men, who were already seated at the board, when, at the entrance to the hall, he found Nausicaa standing beside the doorpost. He had not seen her since his arrival in the city, for she had kept to the women’s chambers, apart from the banquets of the men. Now, before his departure, she wanted to see the distinguished guest of her house once more. She cast a glance of wondering admiration at his tall form and handsome face, detained him gently, and said: “All happiness to you, noble stranger! And think of me sometimes when you reach the land of your fathers, for I had the privilege of saving your life.”
Odysseus was deeply moved. “Nausicaa,” he said, “if Zeus grants me a safe return, I shall address you with prayers every day, as if you were a goddess.” With this he entered the hall and took his place at the king’s side. The servants were just cutting the meat and pouring wine into the cups from the mixing-bowl. Blind Demodocus was led in and seated himself by the central pillar of the hall, as before. Then Odysseus summoned the herald, cut the best piece from the back of a roasted boar lying in front of him, put it on a platter, and said: “Herald, give this to the singer. Although this is not my home, I should like to do him a courtesy, for singers are honored all over the world. The Muse herself has taught them the art of song and watches over them with favor.” Gratefully the blind singer received the gift.
When the meal was over, Odysseus again turned to Demodocus. “I prize you beyond other mortals,” he said to him. “How well you have sung of the fate of the Argive heroes—as if you yourself had been with them and seen and heard everything! Now chant us the tale of the wooden horse and the part Odysseus had in that adventure.” Joyfully the singer obeyed, and all listened to his song. When Odysseus heard his own praises, he again wept and hid his tears, but Alcinous noticed it. He bade the singer be silent and said to the Phaeacians: “Better let the lyre rest now, for not everyone is rejoicing in this tale Demodocus has sung. Our guest is saddened by it, and our company does not cheer his heart. But a man should love his guest like his brother! Tell us at last, stranger, who your parents are, and what country you are from. Everyone, whether he be a noble or a common man, has a name! And if my Phaeacians are to take you home, we must know the name of your country and of your city. That is all they require. They do not need a pilot. If you only tell them the name of the place, they will find their way through fog and darkness.”
At this friendly request, the Argive hero replied: “Do not think, O king, that your singer has not pleased me. It is delight to listen when such a man lifts his godlike voice, and I know of nothing pleasanter than when guests at a feast hang on the words of the singer while they sit at the board heaped with bread and meat and the cupbearer pours wine from the full bowl. But now, my dear hosts, you wish to hear about me, and I fear my own tale is bound to sadden me still more. Where shall I begin? Where shall I end? But first of all I shall tell you my name and my country.”
ODYSSEUS TELLS THE TALE OF HIS WANDERINGS TO THE PHAEACIANS
THE CICONES. THE LOTOS-EATERS. THE CYCLOPES. POLYPHEMUS
I am Odysseus, the son of Laertes. I am known among men, and the fame of my wisdom has spread over the earth. My country is the sunny island of Ithaca, in the midst of which rises the wooded mountain Neriton. Scattered in the sea around Ithaca are many smaller inhabited islands, Same, Dulichium, Zacynthus. My country is rugged, and it rears vigorous men—but everyone thinks his own native land best and sweetest! And now listen to the tale of my unfortunate journey home from Troy. The wind carried me from Ilium to Ismarus, the city of the Cicones, which I sacked with my friends. We killed the men and divided the women and other spoils among us. My advice was that we leave as quickly as possible, but my companions were less cautious and insisted on lingering at their revels. In the meantime those Cicones who had fled at our coming had won allies among their comrades farther inland, and now they fell on us as we sat at the banquet. There were too few of us to resist them. They defeated us. Six men from each of our ships lost their lives in the city. The rest of us escaped death only by frantic flight.
We steered toward the west, but our hearts were sad for the friends we had lost. And then Zeus sent a tempest from the north. Earth and sea were wrapped in clouds and darkness. We lowered our masts, but before we could draw in the sails the yards cracked and the sailcloth hung in tatters. We managed to reach the coast and lay at anchor two days and two nights, until we had repaired the yards and spread new sails. Then we set out again, full of glad hope of reaching our native land. But when we rounded the promontory of Malea, at the southern tip of the Peloponnesus, the wind suddenly veered and drove us out to sea. For nine days we were beaten and battered by the blast. On the tenth we reached the coast of the Lotos-Eaters who feed on nothing but the fruit of the lotus. We went ashore for a supply of fresh water and sent two of our number to explore the lay of the land. A herald accompanied them. They happened on the assembly of the Lotos-Eaters and were courteously received by this gentle people who did not dream of doing us harm. But the fruit of the lotus which they gave our envoys has a strange effect on men. It is sweeter than honey, and whoever tastes of it wants to remain in that country forever and refuses to return home. We had to fetch our comrades back to the ship by force while they wept and struggled.
In the course of our further journey we came to the cruel and savage people of the Cyclopes. These do not work the land, but leave everything to the gods. And, actually, everything grows there without ploughing or sowing, wheat, barley, and vines bearing huge clusters of heavy grapes. Zeus sends gentle rains and blesses the soil. The Cyclopes have no laws and hold no assembly. They live in vaulted caves on the tops of rocky mountains. Each leads his life with his wife and children, just as he pleases, and no one pays any attention to his neighbor. A short distance from the land of the Cyclopes a wooded island lies in the bay. It serves as a pasture for wild goats which breed there, untroubled by the huntsman. No human being lives on it, and the Cyclopes, who know nothing of the art of shipbuilding, cannot cross to it. Men could make a fruitful place of this island, for the ground is very fertile. Lush green meadows run along the coast, and farther inland the soil is crumbly and good. The low hills would make excellent vineyards. And there is a harbor so sheltered from winds that one would need neither anchors nor ropes to secure his ships. Right where you land pure water gushes from a stony gorge, and tall poplars circle the spring. To this place a friendly god guided our ships in the darkness of night. When day dawned, we went ashore and shot so many goats that there were nine for each of my twelve ships, and I kept ten for myself. The livelong day we sat on that pleasant shore and refreshed ourselves with goat-meat and the strong red wine which we had taken from the city of the Cicones and brought with us in jars.
But the next morning I grew curious about the opposite shore. I did not know anything about the Cyclopes then. Many of my companions boarded the ship with me and we rowed across. When we landed we saw a high cave overgrown with laurel, and around it many sheep and goats. Great stones had been rammed into the earth to wall in a court, and tall firs and oaks formed an impenetrable fence around it. Later we discovered that within this enclosure lived a man of gigantic stature. He pastured his herds on distant meadows and had nothing to do with his kind. He was a Cyclops, lonely and lawless. When we had surveyed the shore, I chose twelve of my boldest companions and told the rest to stay aboard, row the ship out of sight, and wait at anchor. I took with me a skin of the best wine. A priest of Apollo had given it to me in Ismarus because I spared him and his family. I thought that this wine and the abundant provisions we had taken with us in a basket would win over whoever might be living in this place.
When we reached the cave we found no one there, for the Cyclops had taken his sheep to pasture. We entered, notwithstanding, and marvelled at what we saw. All along the walls were enormous cheeses. In the pens were lambs and kids, and each kind of creature was in its own stall. The floor was covered with baskets, milking-pails, jugs of whey, and casks. My comrades urged me to take as many of the cheeses as we could carry, drive the lambs and goats to our ship, and return to our friends on the island. Oh, if only I had followed their advice! But at the time I was eager to find out who inhabited the cave, and I wanted to receive a gift from my host, rather than leave with stolen goods. So we fit a fire and made an offering. Then we ate a little of the cheese and waited for the master of the house to return.
At last he came. On his massive shoulders was an enormous load of dry wood which he had collected to cook his evening meal. He threw it on the ground, and the crash was so great that we started up and then hid in the farthest corners of the cave. We watched him drive in those of his herd he wanted. The rams and the he-goats had to stay in the outside enclosure. And now he closed off the entrance with a tremendous rock. Twenty-two four-wheeled wagons could not have budged it from its place. After that, he sat down at his ease, milked the ewes and the she-goats, let the little lambs and kids suck at the udder, curdled half the milk, and placed it in wicker baskets. The other half he poured into large vessels, for this was his daily draught. When he had finished his work he poked the fire, and now he spied us in our distant corners. This was the first time we had got a good look at him too. Like all the Cyclopes he had a single flashing eye in the middle of his forehead. His legs were like the trunks of thousand-year-old oaks, and his arms and hands were big and powerful enough to play ball with blocks of granite. “Who are you?” he thundered at us in his great rough voice. “Where have you come from? Are you pirates, or what trade do you ply?”
Our very hearts trembled at his roaring, but I managed to collect myself and replied: “We are no pirates! We are Achaeans on the way home from the war of Troy, and we have lost our way on the sea. We come to you to beg your protection and help. Fear the gods and hear us! For Zeus is the patron of suppliants and avenges any wrong done to them!”
But the Cyclops only burst into hideous laughter. “You are a fool, stranger!” he said. “You do not know the men you are dealing with! Do you think we are concerned with gods and their vengeance? What do the Cyclopes care about the Thunderer and all the rest of the immortals put together? We are mightier than they! Unless my own heart prompts me to mercy, I shall spare neither you nor your friends. But first of all, tell me where you have hidden your ship. Where have you cast anchor? Is it nearby?”
This was a shrewd question, but I was ready with a shrewder reply. “My ship,” I told him, “was smashed on the cliffs of this island by Poseidon the Earth-Shaker. These twelve men and myself are the only ones who escaped destruction.”
The monster said nothing in reply. All he did was to put out his huge hands, grab two of my companions, and dash them to the ground so that blood and brains spurted through their shattered skulls. Then he chopped them up for his evening meal and satisfied his hunger like a lion devouring his prey in the mountains. And he ate not only their flesh, but their entrails as well, and he crunched their bones to the marrow. All we could do was lift our hands to Zeus and lament this awful crime.
After the giant had filled his belly and quenched his thirst with milk, he threw himself on the floor of the cave to sleep. And now I prepared to have at him, to thrust my sword into his side, between his midriff and liver. But I quickly gave up the idea. For how could this have helped us? Who could roll the enormous stone from the mouth of the cave? We should all have died a miserable death. So we let him snore on and waited for the dawn in fear and trembling. When morning came the Cyclops rose, fanned the fire, and did his milking. Then he reached for two more of my companions and ate them for his breakfast, while we watched in speechless terror. After that he drove his well-fed herd out of the cave. He himself went last and put the stone back in its place, as one puts the lid on a quiver. Finally he whistled shrilly to his beasts and strode off with echoing tread. We remained behind, and each thought of how he might be next to die. But I kept turning plan after plan over in my mind. At last I hit on a scheme which I thought might work. Beside a sheeppen lay the Cyclops’ mighty club. It was of green olive wood, and he was waiting for it to season before carrying it with him. In length and thickness it was like the mast of a ship. From this club I split off a staff about six feet long. My comrades smoothed it for me and then I sharpened it to a point and hardened it in the fire. This staff I carefully hid in a pile of manure at the side of the cave. Then we cast lots as to who was to help me pierce the monster’s eye while he lay asleep. The lot fell on the four bravest, those whom I myself would have chosen.
At nightfall the loathsome shepherd returned with his flock. This time he did not leave any of the animals in the court but drove them all into the cave. Perhaps he was vaguely suspicious; perhaps a god had decided to help us. After that, everything took its course just as on the evening before: he put the stone back in its place and ate two of our number. While he was busy with this, I had filled a wooden jug with the dark wine from our wineskin. Then I approached the Cyclops and said: “Here, take it and drink. Wine tastes good after human flesh. I want you to know what a precious brew we carried with us on our ship. I took it with me to offer you in return for hospitality and for helping us to get to our country. But you have dealt very differently with us. May no mortal ever visit you hereafter!”
The Cyclops took the jug without deigning to reply and emptied it at one gulp. It was easy to see how delighted he was with the strength and sweetness of the wine. For the first time he spoke in cordial tones. “Stranger,” he said, “give me another drink. And tell me your name, so that I may offer you a gift. For we Cyclopes also have good wine. And now I shall tell you whom you see before you: I am Polyphemus.”
So said the Cyclops, and I was only too glad to give him more of my wine. Three times I filled the jug, and three times he was stupid enough to drain it to the last drop. When the draught began to do its work and his mind clouded, I said: “You want to know my name, Cyclops? I have a rather odd name. It is No Man. All the world calls me No Man. My father and my mother and all my friends use this name.”
The Cyclops replied: “Well then, here is the gift I have in mind for you. No Man is the one I shall eat last of all his companions. Are you pleased with the gift, No Man?”
But the last words sounded blurred. His tongue was heavy. He leaned back and then sprawled on the floor. His thick neck was bent, and in his drunkenness he vomited human flesh and wine. And now I quickly held my staff in the glowing ashes until it caught fire. When it began to glow I drew it out, and with my four comrades I pierced his great eye and turned the staff like a carpenter drilling timber for a ship. His lashes and brows were scorched, and his eye hissed like hot iron in water. He leaped up with a howl so loud that the whole cave shook, and we fled into its farthest corners.
Polyphemus jerked the staff out of his eye and flung it away, while the blood streamed from the socket. Then he began to rage around like a madman. He shrieked and shouted and called on his fellow Cyclopes who lived scattered over the mountains. They came running from all sides, surrounded the cave, and asked what had happened. “No Man is murdering me!” he cried. “No Man has tricked me!” When the Cyclopes heard this, they said: “Well, if no man is hurting you, what are you shouting about? You must be out of your mind. But that is a sickness we have no remedy for.” They went away, and my heart swelled with satisfaction.
And now the blind Cyclops began to stumble through the cave, still moaning with pain. He took the stone from the opening, but he himself sat down in the entrance and groped about with his hands to catch any one of us who tried to go out with the sheep. For he thought me dull enough to attempt such a thing. But I was again busy with plans and finally found a way. All around us were many large rams with thick, heavy fleece. These I bound together in threes with the willow withes of the Cyclops’ sleeping mat. Every middle ram carried under his belly one of our men, while the rams on either side protected this secret burden. I myself chose the bellwether, who was bigger than all the rest. I gripped his back, worked myself down under his belly, and clung to his curly wool. Thus concealed under the beasts we waited for morning. At dawn the rams were the first to go out to pasture. The ewes bleated in the stalls with stiff, full udders, waiting to be milked.
Polyphemus carefully passed his hands over the backs of the rams to make sure no one was on them, but he never thought of reaching around under them. My wether came last, for he was slowed by the burden he bore. Polyphemus stroked him too and said: “My good bellwether, what makes you go out of the cave so slowly? Usually you do not let any of the rest of the flock get ahead of you. You are always first on the meadow and at the brook, and in the evening first to return to your stall. Are you sad because your master has lost his eye? If you could talk, I am sure you would tell me where that scoundrel and his companions are hiding. Once I have dashed out their brains against these stone walls, I could recover from the sorrow which No Man has brought me.”
So said the Cyclops and let the wether pass. And now all of us were outside! The moment we were a short distance from the cave, I let myself drop to the ground and then loosed my companions. Alas! There were only seven of us left! We embraced and lamented for those we had lost. But I signed to them not to weep aloud, but to drive the rams quickly to our ships. And when we sat on the rowing benches, safe and sound, when the ships slid smoothly over the waters and we were a herald’s cry from the shore, I called to the Cyclops who was climbing the hill with his herd: “Let me tell you, Polyphemus, that you have eaten the companions of a man who is by no means insignificant! At last your evil deeds have been requited, and you have felt the punishment of Zeus and the other gods!”
When Polyphemus heard this, he broke into a savage fit of rage. With a violent wrench he tore a huge rock from the mountain and hurled it at our ship. And his aim was so accurate that he missed the stern by only a very little. Even so the waves rose high from the splash of that huge block of stone and our ship was driven back to the shore, so that it took all our strength to row forward and away from the giant. And now I called to him a second time, although my friends feared another rock and tried to prevent me. “Listen, Cyclops!” I shouted, “if anyone should ever ask you who blinded you, you shall give a more correct answer than you gave the Cyclopes. Tell them that you were blinded by the conqueror of Troy, by Odysseus, son of Laertes, who lives on the island of Ithaca.”
At this the Cyclops howled with fury and grief and called: “So the ancient prophecy has been fulfilled! Years ago a soothsayer, Telemus, son of Eurymus, lived in our land and grew old there. It was he who told me that Odysseus would deprive me of my sight. I always thought this Odysseus would be a huge fellow like myself, that he would challenge me to single combat. But now it is this little chap who came, this weakling, who fuddled me with wine and put out my eye while I was drunk! I beg you to return, Odysseus! This time I shall be a good host to you and ask the sea-god to take you home safely. For you must know that I am the son of Poseidon, and he and no other can heal me.” With that he began to pray to his father Poseidon to keep me from reaching my country. “And should he return,” he ended, “let it be after many years. Let him be sad and alone on the ship of strangers, and let him find nothing but unhappiness when he reaches his home.”
So he prayed, and Poseidon granted his prayer. When he had done talking, Polyphemus gripped another rock and tossed it toward us, and this time too he almost hit us. But we managed to row out of the swirl of waters and soon reached the island where the rest of our ships were riding safely at anchor. Our friends, who had been greatly troubled at our long absence, received us with cries of joy. As soon as we landed, we distributed the sheep we had stolen from the Cyclops. But in addition to my share, my companions agreed to give me the wether who had carried me out of the cave. I immediately offered him up to Zeus and burned the legs of the beast in his honor. But the god spurned the sacrifice and refused to be propitiated. It was his will to let all our ships and all my companions perish.
But we did not know this at the time. We were carefree and gay, and feasted and drank until the sun set in the sea. Then we lay down on the shore and fell asleep to the sound of the surf. When the sky reddened with dawn, we boarded our ships and rowed on toward home.
ODYSSEUS CONTINUES HIS TALE
The Leather Bag of Aeolus. The Laestrygonians. Circe
After this we came to an island which was the dwelling of Aeolus, son of Hippotes, a cherished friend of the gods. This island floated about in the sea. It was circled by a wall of bronze built along the edge of steep rock which rimmed the land. On it was the palace of Aeolus. He had six sons and six daughters, and with them and his wife he feasted day after day. This good ruler was our host for a full month. He asked us all about Troy, about the Argives and their return from Ilium. We told him everything in great detail; when we finally begged him to help us on our way home, he was very willing. Among other things he gave us a taut leather bag. In it were many winds which blow across the earth, for Zeus had made Aeolus the keeper of the winds, and he had the power to loose those he wanted and to bid them fly or stay. He himself bound the bag to the ship with a silver cord and tied it up so well that not a breath of air could escape. But he had not imprisoned all the winds. For when we set out, the gentlest west wind swelled our sails and would have brought us safely home had not our own folly plunged us into disaster.
We had been travelling for nine days and nine nights; on the tenth night we were so near the coast of Ithaca that I could see the watch fires burning on the shore. And then—of all times—I had to grow irresistibly sleepy! I had been up and managing the sails the entire voyage, for I wanted to get home as quickly as possible and did not wish to entrust this important business to anyone else. Now, while I slept, my companions began to discuss what might be in the bag King Aeolus had given me in parting. And it seemed that all of them thought it must be filled with silver and gold. In the end, one of them, an envious fellow, said: “This Odysseus is honored and made much of wherever he goes. Look at the spoils he carried off from Troy alone! But we, who endured exactly the same hardships and dangers, are going home empty-handed. To crown it all, Aeolus has given him a whole sack of gold and silver! How about looking into it, at least, and finding out how much treasure it contains?” The others instantly agreed to this unfortunate suggestion. They untied the bag, but hardly had it been opened before the winds all rushed out and drove our ship back to the high seas.
The noise of the gale woke me. When I saw the disaster which had overtaken me, I felt like jumping overboard and drowning in the waves. But I thought better of it and decided to bear up under whatever might come. The rage of the tempest drove us back to the island of Aeolus. Here I left my men on the ships and went to the palace with one friend and a herald. We found the king, his wife, and his children at their midday meal. They were amazed to see us, but when they heard the cause of our return, the ruler of the winds rose from his chair and cried: “Vilest of mortals! It is clear that the gods are pursuing you with their wrath. But a man whom immortals hate must not be my guest, and I shall not assist him any further. Leave this house, you who are accursed!” And with that he drove me from his threshold. With heavy hearts we again boarded our ships and sailed on. For seven days we rowed, but saw no land. Then we gave up hoping.
At last we sighted a coast and a city with many towers. Its name was Telepylus, and the people were called Laestrygonians, as we learned later on. We entered an excellent harbor, protected on all sides by rock, so that the waters in the bay were smooth as a mirror. I anchored my ship, climbed to a rugged height, and looked around. Nowhere did I see ploughed fields, farmers, shepherds, or cattle. All I could detect was smoke from a great city mounting to the sky. So I sent two friends and a herald to reconnoitre. They found a path leading through woods and walked toward the smoke until they were near the city. Here they met a girl carrying a pitcher. She was the daughter of Antiphates, king of the Laestrygonians, and was on her way to the spring called Artacia, from which the inhabitants of that place drew water. The girl was so tall that they marvelled at her stature. She spoke to them in a friendly manner and told them what they wanted to know about her father’s palace, the country, the city, and its people. But when they actually reached the city and approached the palace, they froze with horror, for the queen of the Laestrygonians confronted them, tall as a mountain. It seemed that the Laestrygonians were man-eating giants! She lost no time in calling her husband, who at once seized one of my envoys and gave orders to prepare him for the evening meal. The two others fled in mortal terror. But the king roared orders to pursue them, and over a thousand giants, fully armed, came and hurled stones at our ships, so that the air was filled with the crash of timbers and the groans of the dying. I had anchored my own ship in the shelter of a cliff, where it was safe from the missiles. Now I took into it those who were still alive and made off with all possible speed. The other ships sank, and with them, alas! many of my comrades.
Crowded into a single ship, we rowed on and came to the island of Aeaea. This was the home of a beautiful goddess, child of the sun-god and Perse, daughter of Oceanus and sister to King Aeetes. Her name was Circe, and she lived in a splendid palace. But when we entered the bay of the island we did not know who lived there. We cast anchor, and, almost dead with fatigue and sorrow, lay down and slept for two days and nights on the grassy shore. On the third day, I took my sword and lance and set out to explore the island. Soon I saw smoke rising, but mindful of the terrible adventure we had only just survived, I decided to return to my friends. It was a long time since we had had sufficient food. One of the gods must have taken pity on us, for suddenly I saw a stag with broad antlers running out of the woods and down to the stream. I cast my lance at him, and it struck him in the back, coming out at the belly. Then I planted my foot against the animal, drew out the spear, twisted myself a rope of willow withes, bound together its ankles, and carried it to the ship on my back. It was so heavy a burden that I had to lean on my lance in walking.
My companions started up joyfully when they saw the fine beast on my shoulders. We roasted the stag, fetched what bread and wine we still had on the ship, and sat down to eat. Not until now did I report the column of smoke I had seen mounting from some habitation. But my men received the news dejectedly, for they remembered the cave of the Cyclops and the land of the Laestrygonians. I was the only one who kept up his courage, and I divided the crew into two groups, one of which I was to lead, the other Eurylochus. Then we shook lots in a brazen helmet. The lot fell on Eurylochus, and so he, with twenty-two men, set out toward where I had seen the smoke.
They soon came to the stately stone palace of Circe, lying in a fair green valley. But imagine their amazement when they saw shaggy-maned lions and wolves with long sharp teeth prowling around in the walled court in front of the palace! They looked at these beasts in terror and were just going to flee from that uncanny place when the animals surrounded them. But, oddly enough, they advanced slowly, wagging their tails like dogs who go to meet their master to receive a tidbit he has brought them from a feast, and they behaved in an altogether gentle and docile fashion. Later we discovered that they were really men whom Circe had changed into animals.
Since these beasts made no motion to stop my companions, they took courage again and approached the gates of the palace. From within, they heard the beautiful voice of Circe. She was seated at her loom, weaving a mantle such as only a goddess can contrive, and singing as she worked. The first to see her and to rejoice in what he saw was Polites, my particular friend. At his advice, the rest called to Circe to come out, and she came to the gate and smilingly invited them in. All followed her except Eurylochus. He was a cautious man, tempered, moreover, by bad experience, and he suspected some trickery or other.
The rest entered the palace where Circe bade them be seated on sumptuous chairs. She had cheese and flour, honey and Pramnian wine brought, and proceeded to mix these ingredients to a custard. But as she worked, she secretly added baneful drugs which would make her guests forget their native land and rob them of their true form. And the dish did its work! As soon as my men had eaten of it, they were turned into bristly swine. They commenced to grunt, and Circe drove them into sties and threw to them acorns and wild cherries.
Eurylochus had watched part of what happened and guessed the rest. He hurried back to the ship as fast as he could to tell us of what had befallen our comrades. But when he reached us, his terror was still so great that he was unable to utter a single word. The tears gushed from his eyes, and he was speechless with grief.
At last, when we pressed him to talk, full of concern and surprise, he broke his silence and told us what he had seen. The moment he had ended I slung my sword and bow over my shoulder and asked him to lead me to the palace. He, however, clasped my knees with both hands and pleaded with me to give up my plan, or at any rate not to take him with me. “Believe me,” he said in a voice choked with tears, “you will not return, nor will you bring back our friends. Oh, let us flee this accursed island!” I permitted him to stay, but I myself resolved to do what I could to save my companions.
On the way I met a beautiful youth. He held out to me a golden staff by which I recognized Hermes, the messenger of the gods. Clasping my hand, he said: “Why do you wander through the woods where you do not know the way? Circe, the sorceress, has turned your friends into swine and shut them up in sties. Do you think you can rescue them? More likely she will add you to the list of her victims. But I have been sent to help you. If you carry with you this herb”—and here he dug a black root bearing a milk-white bloom out of the earth—“she will not be able to harm you. What she will do is prepare a wine custard and blend into it some magic potion. But this herb will prevent her from turning you into a beast. Should she, however, try to touch you with her long magic wand, rush at her with your sword as if you intended to kill her. Then it will be easy to compel her to swear a sacred oath not to trick you in any way. After that, stay with her if you like. There will be no further danger. And once you have made friends with her, she will not refuse your request to return your companions to their proper shape.”
So said Hermes and left to return to high Olympus, while I walked toward Circe’s palace. At my call, she opened the gates and bade me enter. I followed her, seething with anger, sat down in a sumptuous chair, and let her put a footstool under my feet. Under my very eyes she prepared her wine custard in a cup of gold. She could hardly wait for me to finish eating, and when I had emptied the cup she touched me with her wand, without the faintest doubt of her powers, and said: “Out to the pigsty to join your friends!” But I snatched my sword from its scabbard and rushed at her as though I meant to kill her. At that she screamed, threw herself on the floor, clasped my knees, and moaned: “Who are you, great and mighty man, whom my potion has left untransformed? No other mortal has ever been able to resist my witchcraft. Can it be that you are Odysseus, whose arrival, on your way home from Troy, Hermes predicted to me long ago? If it is you, put up your sword and let us be friends.”
But I did not lower my threatening hand and replied: “How can you, Circe, ask me to be friends with you, who have turned my companions into swine! Am I not forced to think that you are using kindly words only to lure me into some trap? I cannot be your friend until you swear a sacred oath not to harm me in any way.” She instantly swore the oath I had demanded of her, and now I felt at ease and spent a carefree night. In the early morning, her handmaids, who were lovely and gentle nymphs, busied themselves in ordering the chambers of their mistress. One spread the chairs with soft crimson mats, another placed silver tables beside them and golden baskets on the tables. A third mixed wine and water in a silver bowl and set out cups of gold; and the fourth fetched clear water from the spring and poured it into a cauldron which she placed over a flame. When the water was warm, I took a refreshing bath, rubbed my body with perfumed oil, and dressed. Then I was bidden to the morning meal which I was to take in Circe’s company. Now although I was served with good and abundant food, I did not put out my hand to eat, but sat opposite my beautiful hostess silent and sad. When she finally asked me the cause of my sorrow, I said: “What man who has not lost all feeling for what is just and fair could enjoy food and drink while he knows that his friends are unhappy? If you want me to take pleasure in your company, restore my dear companions to their proper shape, that I may feast my eyes on them.”
This was enough for Circe. She left the room, holding her wand in her hand. Outside, she opened the door of the sty and drove out my friends. I followed her, and they crowded around me as swine. But now she anointed each with a salve, and suddenly they shed their bristly hides and became men again, only younger and handsomer than before. They rushed up to me full of joy and clasped my hands. But when they recalled what they had just been through, their eyes filled with tears. Then Circe said to me: “I have done what you asked! And now do what I beg of you: beach your ship, store its cargo in one of the rock grottoes on the shore, and be my honored guest, together with all those who are with you!”
Her courteous words won my heart. I returned to the shore and the friends I had left behind. They had given me up, and now rushed toward me with tears of joy. When I suggested that we beach the ship and remain with the goddess a while as her guests, all were willing except Eurylochus, who objected vehemently. “Do you really want to go to that witch of your own free will?” he cried. “Are you longing to be turned into lions, wolves, and swine, and guard her palace in these horrible shapes? Have you forgotten how the Cyclops dealt with us when Odysseus was unwise enough to let us fall into his power?” When I heard him say this about me, I had the greatest desire to draw my sword and strike his head from his trunk, even though he was a kinsman of mine, but my friends saw my sudden movement toward the hilt; they took hold of my arm, and brought me back to my senses.
And now we all started on our way inland. Even Eurylochus, whom my threatening gesture had frightened, no longer refused to join us. In the meantime Circe had ordered baths prepared for our friends. They had anointed themselves with perfumed oil and put on the splendid tunics and mantles she had provided for them. When we arrived they were feasting at the board. What a happy reunion! Clasping of hands, embraces, tears of joy! Circe bade us all be of good courage and was so kind to as that our hearts grew lighter from day to day, and we stayed with her for many months. But when the year drew to a close, my comrades begged me to set out on the journey home. Their words moved me, and that very evening I clasped Circe’s knees and implored her to keep her word and send us home. “You are right, Odysseus,” she replied. “I must not try to force you to remain here with me. But before you return to Ithaca you must travel to Hades, to the bleak realm of Persephone, and ask the soul of Tiresias, the blind soothsayer of Thebes, to foretell the future, for Persephone has allowed him to retain the gift of prophecy even after death. The souls of the other dead are only like hovering shadows.”
When I heard this, I lost heart and began to weep. I shuddered at the thought of visiting the dead and asked her who was to be my guide, for no man of flesh and blood had ever sailed to the underworld. “Do not worry about your ship or look for a guide,” Circe answered. “Raise your mast and hoist the sails. The north wind will take you there, and once you have crossed Oceanus, the waters which encircle the earth, land on the low shore at the point where you will see tall poplars and willows growing side by side. That is the grove of Persephone, and there you will find the entrance to the underworld. In a valley, near a rock where the roaring currents of Pyriphlegethon and Cocytus, a branch of the Styx, flow into Acheron, you will find a cleft which leads into the land of shades. There you must dig a hole and offer honey, milk, wine, water, and flour to the dead. You must also promise to sacrifice a heifer to them when you reach Ithaca, and to offer a black ram to Tiresias besides. After that, slaughter two black sheep, a ram and a ewe, and look through the cleft at the pointed streams, while your companions burn the animals in honor of the gods and pray to them. Then you will see the souls of the dead, and these phantoms shaped of air will try to approach and taste the blood of the victims. But you must fend them off with your sword and not permit them to come closer until you have consulted Tiresias, for he will soon appear and tell you about your journey home.”
These words gave me some comfort. The next morning I summoned my friends in order to prepare for our departure. Now one of them, Elpenor, the youngest of them all, but a man who was neither very brave nor very wise, had drunk a little too much of Circe’s sweet wine, left the others to cool his hot face, and lain down on the flat roof of the palace. There he had fallen asleep and spent the night in undisturbed rest. When the noise and bustle of my companions woke him, he started up in a daze, forgot where he was, and instead of making for the stair, walked to the edge of the roof and fell off. He broke his neck, and his soul descended to the underworld.
I gathered my friends about me and said: “I know yon think we are setting out for our beloved native land. But this, alas! is not so, for Circe has bidden us go elsewhere first. We must visit Hades and there ask the soul of the soothsayer Tiresias concerning our journey.” When my companions heard this, their hearts almost broke with sorrow. They tore their hair and broke into loud lament. But there was no help for it. I commanded them to go to the ship with me. Circe had preceded us to put aboard the two sheep we were to sacrifice, together with the honey, wine, and flour. When we reached the shore, she slipped past us in silence. We pushed the ship into the water, raised the mast, spread the sails, and mournfully sat down on the rowing benches. Circe sent us a fair wind. It swelled our sails, and soon we were out on the high seas.
ODYSSEUS CONTINUES HIS TALE
The Realm of Shades
The sun dipped into the sea. A steady wind drove our ship to the end of the world, to the land of the Cimmerians, which is wrapped in eternal mists and never lit by the rays of the sun. And there was Oceanus, the river which bounds the earth. We came to the rock and the streams which join their waters, and there we made our offerings, just as Circe had bidden us. The moment the blood from the throats of the sheep flowed into the pit we had dug for the sacrifice, the souls of the dead emerged from the cleft. Young men and old, girls and children came, and many heroes with gaping wounds and bloodstained armor. They thronged about us with sobbing sighs and hovered over the pit. Terror almost got the better of me. I told my companions to burn the sheep quickly and pray to the gods. Then I drew my sword and kept the shades from lapping the blood, for Circe had said that first I was to put my question to Tiresias.
But before him came the soul of our friend Elpenor, whose body still lay unburied in Circe’s house. With tears in his eyes he complained of his sad lot and pleaded with me to sail back to the island of Aeaea and bury him with all due honors. I promised him that I would, and he seated himself opposite me. Thus we sat and conversed sorrowfully, the shadowy form of Elpenor and I, holding my sword across the pool of sacrificial blood. Soon after this, the shade of my mother, beautiful Anticlea, joined us. She had still been alive when I left for Ilium. Silently she seated herself and stared at the blood. Never once did she look at me, her son.
And now the shade of Tiresias appeared, a golden staff in his right hand. He recognized me at once and said: “Son of Laertes, what prompted you to leave the light of the sun and visit this place of dread? But since you are here, take your sword from the pit, that I may drink of the blood and so be able to foretell your fate to you.” At his words I withdrew from the pit and thrust my sword into the earth. The shade drank the dark blood and began to speak: “You hope, Odysseus, that I shall predict a happy homecoming for you. But a god will put obstacles in your way, and you cannot evade the hand of the Earth-Shaker, whom you have deeply offended by putting out the eye of his son Polyphemus. Still, in the end you will return, so do not give way to despair. First you will land on the island of Thrinacia. If you want to reach home, do not touch the sacred herds of the sun-god which are pastured there. Should you harm them, your ship and your friends will be destroyed. And even if you yourself escape, you will arrive in Ithaca only after many years, alone, poor, and on an alien ship. Even then you will not find happiness, but will encounter arrogant men who are squandering your property and wooing your wife Penelope. You will slay them openly or by guile. But soon after you shall take your oar on your back and wander on and on until you come to men who do not know the sea, who have no ships, and do not season their food with salt. When, in that faraway land, you meet a man who tells you that you are carrying a winnowing fan on your back, thrust your oar into the ground, make an offering to Poseidon, and go home again. Your realm will prosper, and at long last you will die an old man’s death, far from the sea.”
This was what he told me. I thanked the seer and asked him another question I had in my heart. “Tell me this: there sits the shade of my mother. How can I make her recognize me?”
“Let her drink of the blood,” the soothsayer replied, “and she will break her silence.”
Then I let my mother approach, and she drank. Suddenly she knew me, gazed at me with wet eyes, and said: “Dear son, how could you, who are still alive, enter this place of death? Did not Ocean us and the other rivers keep you back? Have you been wandering about since the fall of Troy? Can you not return to Ithaca?” When I had answered her questions, I asked her how she had died, for she had been still alive when I left for Troy. And then, my heart beating with fear, I inquired about the others I had left behind. “Your wife,” she told me, “is unshakably faithful and weeps for you day and night. Your son Telemachus sees to your property, and no one has taken over your scepter. Your father Laertes leads a peasant’s life in the country and never comes into the city any more. He does not live in a royal chamber or sleep on a soft couch. Like a slave he lies in the ashes beside the hearth, throughout the winter, and his clothing is of the poorest sort. In summer he sleeps on a heap of fallen leaves under the open sky. And all this he does for grief at your fate. I myself died of sorrow for you, dear son. It was not sickness that took me from the earth.”
As she spoke I trembled with yearning. But when I tried to take her in my arms, she dissolved like the shapes in our dreams. And now other shades came, many of them women famed on earth. They all drank of the blood of the victims we had slaughtered and told me their story. When they had vanished, I saw a sight that made my heart turn over. I saw the soul of great Agamemnon! Slowly he moved toward the pit and drank of the blood. Then he looked up, recognized me, and began to weep. In vain he reached for me with his strengthless hands. Then he answered my eager questions. “Noble Odysseus,” he said, “perhaps you think that the sea-god destroyed me, or that enemies got the better of me while I was drinking at a feast. But this is not so. Just as one slays an ox at the stall, so Clytaemnestra and her lover Aegisthus killed me in the bath, killed me who had journeyed toward home so full of longing for my wife and children! That is why I now counsel you, Odysseus, not to trust your wife too much. Do not let affection lead you to tell her all your secrets! But I forget! Penelope is virtuous and wise. And the child she nursed when you and I left for Greece, the child Telemachus, is now a youth who will receive his father full of filial love. Clytaemnestra did not even let me feast my eyes on my son Orestes before she murdered me. In any case, I advise you to land secretly on the coast of Ithaca, for no woman can be wholly trusted.”
With these somber words the shade of Agamemnon turned and vanished. After him came the shades of Achilles and his friends Patroclus and Antilochus and Ajax the Great. Achilles was the first to drink. He recognized me in amazement. I told him why I had come. But when I said to him that he, the most renowned of all the Argives, must be happy even in Hades, as the greatest among the dead, he answered mournfully: “Do not try to find comforting words about death, Odysseus! Rather than be lord over all the throngs of the dead, I should choose to till the fields like a serf who has no property and no heritage.” Then he begged me to tell him about the feats of his son Neoptolemus, and when he had heard of his courage and glorious deeds, he grew more content. Finally he strode from me with mighty steps and was lost from sight.
All the other souls who had drunk of the blood were willing to speak to me. Only Ajax, whom I had once conquered in the fight for the weapons of Achilles and who had taken his life because of this, stood to one side and nursed his grudge. I addressed him with gentle words: “Son of Telamon, can you not forget your anger even in death, your anger about the weapons of Achilles which the gods gave to the Argives only to put a curse on them? For because of them we lost you who were like a tower in battle. Not we were guilty of your death! It was Fate. Then curb your wrath, noble prince, and speak!” The shade did not reply, but turned away into the darkness.
And now I saw the shades of heroes long dead: of Minos, who judges the dead; of the great hunter Orion, who stood, club in hand, driving away the phantoms of lynxes and lions; of Tityus, on whose liver two vultures fed, in punishment for his crime; Tantalus, who thirsted amid waters rising to his chin. Whenever he leaned to drink they receded, and the trees laden with fruit, which grew at his side, whipped upward with the wind whenever he reached for them; his hand clutched the empty air. I also saw Sisyphus straining to roll a huge boulder up a mountain. He pressed his whole weight against it and worked with his arms and legs, but whenever he got near the top the stone rolled down, and he had to begin his labors all over again. The sweat poured from his limbs, and dust rose in clouds about his head. Near him was Heracles, that is, the shade of Heracles, for he himself dwells on Olympus, and his wife is the goddess of eternal youth. But his shade was dark as night and fitted an arrow to the bow, ready to launch it at an enemy. A gold sword strap, decorated with the shapes of many different animals, hung over his shoulder.
He too disappeared, and throngs of other shades hovered around me. I should have liked to see Theseus and his friend Pirithous. But suddenly those shadowy hosts filled me with terror, as if the Medusa had turned her dreadful head to look at me. Quickly I left with my companions and went back to the shore of Oceanus. And first I fulfilled my promise to Elpenor; we sailed back to Circe’s island.
ODYSSEUS CONTINUES HIS TALE
THE SIRENS. SCYLLA AND CHARYBDIS. THRINACIA AND THE HERDS OF THE SUN-GOD. SHIPWRECK. ODYSSEUS AND CALYPSO
When we had burned the body of our comrade and buried his bones in the earth of Aeaea, we heaped a burial mound for him and set a pillar on it. Circe received us with warm hospitality and provided us with ample stores for our further journey.
The first adventure—of which we had been forewarned by Circe—awaited us on the island of the Sirens. These are nymphs who sing so sweetly that all listen spellbound to their song. They stand on a green shore and lift their lovely voices whenever a ship comes by. But he who is beguiled and lands is destroyed, for the coast of their island is strewn with bleaching bones. When we approached the realm of the Sirens, the fair wind which had floated us gently on suddenly stopped, and the sea lay smooth as a mirror. My comrades lowered the sails, folded them, laid them down in the ship, and began to row. But I thought of Circe’s words. “When you are close to the island of the Sirens,” she had told me, “stop up the ears of your companions with wax, so that they can hear nothing. But if you yourself desire to hear the song, have them fetter your hands and feet and bind you to the mast. The more you implore them to let you go, the more they shall tighten the ropes.”
This I remembered. I cut a slab of wax, kneaded it until it was soft, and with it stopped up the ears of my men. They, in turn, tied me to the mast, plied their oars, and calmly rowed through the waters. When the Sirens saw the ship, they came to the edge of the shore in the shape of beautiful girls and raised their clear-toned song:
Come, famed Odysseus, glory of all Greece,
Turn from your course and hearken to our song!
Ere now has never dusky ship sailed by
But that its helmsman paused at our sweet voice,
Took his full joy of it, and went his way
Made wiser by the tale of what he heard.
For we know all the toils that in wide Troy
Trojan and Argive by gods’ will endured,
And in our wisdom know all things besides
That come to pass upon the fruitful earth.
As I listened, my heart almost burst with the yearning to go to them. I motioned with my head that I wished to be loosed from the mast, but my comrades, who could hear nothing, rowed the faster, and two of them, Eurylochus and Perimedes, came and tightened the cords as I had bidden them. Not until we were safely out of reach of the Siren song did my companions take the wax out of their ears and cut my bonds. I thanked them for remaining steadfast in ignoring my entreaties.
After a short while I sighted a fountain of spray and heard the roar of surf. This was Charybdis, a whirlpool which three times a day shot out from under a cliff and in the backwash sucked down any ship which happened to pass at that moment. My men dropped their oars in horror, and the tide threatened to carry them away. The ship did not move. Then I jumped from my seat and went from man to man, speaking words of courage. “My friends,” I said, “we are old hands at meeting danger! Come what may, nothing worse can befall us than what happened in the cave of the Cyclops; but even there I found a way out. Now too you must do as I say. Grip your oars”—for they had caught them up from the sea—“and make straight for the surf. I have faith that Zeus will help us. You, our helmsman, shall guide the ship as well as you can. Keep to the rocks, so that we will not be caught in the whirlpool.” In this way I warned my friends of Charybdis, but I said nothing of Scylla, the monster Circe had described to me, for I feared they would again drop their oars and lose them. And in my concern I forgot another piece of advice Circe had given me. She had told me not to gird on armor for the fight with this monster. I, however, put on my cuirass, took two spears, went to the bow, and prepared to meet Scylla. But though my eyes ached with peering about I could not discover her, and I waited in deadly fear as the ship came closer and closer to the narrows. This is how Circe had described Scylla to me: “She is no mortal foe, but rather immortal disaster. Courage cannot prevail against her. The only possibility of escape lies in flight. Her house is opposite Charybdis: a steep rock whose jagged point is always hidden in gray cloud. In the middle of this rock is a cave as black as night. Here Scylla lives and proclaims her presence by a loud barking and whining which seems like that of a young dog. This monster has twelve shapeless feet and six snaky necks. At the end of each is a hideous head with three rows of gnashing teeth, ready to crush her prey. Half of her is concealed in her cave, but her heads she puts out of the cleft and fishes for seals, dolphins, and other large creatures of the sea. Never has a ship passed her without losing some of its crew. Usually she snatches a man with each pair of her toothy jaws before anyone is even aware of her nearness.”
This was the picture I saw in my mind’s eye. And now the ship had come close to Charybdis, which was sucking in the sea with greedy mouth and spewing it out again. The water seethed like a kettle over the fire, and white spray filled the air. But when the tide was drawn in the sea looked turbid, the rock seemed to thud with thunder, and one could look far down into a cavern of black slime. While we stared spellbound and our helmsman steered left and away from the whirlpool, we inadvertently came too near Scylla. At one gulp she snapped up six of my comrades. I saw them struggling in the air between her teeth. One moment they moved their arms and legs convulsively and cried to me for help, the next they were ground to pulp. I have suffered much on my wanderings, but never have I seen a more pitiful sight.
And now we were safely through the narrows between Charybdis and Scylla, and before us lay Thrinacia, shining in the sun. The roar of the surf died away, and we heard the lowing of the sacred cattle of the sun-god and the bleating of his sheep. Misfortune had freshened my memory, and I immediately told my companions that both Tiresias and Circe had bidden me flee the island of Helios. This grieved and annoyed my companions beyond measure, and Eurylochus said angrily: “Odysseus, you are a cruel man. You are made of iron and inflexible. Do you seriously intend to deprive us of the rest we need so much? Are you going to prevent us from setting foot on this island and refreshing ourselves with food and drink? Must we ride on over the black sea through the long night? Suppose a tempest overtakes us in the darkness! Let us at least anchor near this friendly shore until the sun rises again.”
When I heard him rebelling against my counsel, I knew very well that a hostile god was planning our destruction. All I said was: “Eurylochus, it is not difficult for you to persuade me, for I am one man against many. I shall yield to you. But first you must all swear a sacred oath not to slaughter a single one of the sun-god’s animals, no matter how many herds of cattle or sheep you may see. Let us be content with the provisions Circe has given us in such abundance.” They were all willing enough to take the oath. We entered the bay from which the fresh water poured into the salt, set foot on land, and prepared our meal. When we had eaten, we began to lament our friends whom Scylla had devoured, but we were so tired that we fell asleep in the midst of weeping.
Perhaps two thirds of the night had gone by, when Zeus sent a roaring gale. At dawn we rowed our ship into a safe grotto. Again I warned my friends not to touch the sun-god’s creatures, for I realized that the stormy weather would force us to remain on the island longer than we had expected. It turned out to be a solid month. The south wind alternated with storms from the east, and both were against us. As long as the food and the wine Circe had given us lasted, there was no trouble. But when we had eaten up all we had and began to feel hungry, my comrades went fishing and hunting birds, while I walked along the shore, hoping to meet a god or a mortal to help us in our distress. When I was well away from the rest, I washed my hands in the sea, so that I could pray with clean palms outstretched, and begged the immortals to rescue us. But all they did was to make me drowsy. I fell asleep.
While I was gone, Eurylochus rose and gave dangerous counsel to my companions. “Listen to me!” he said. “We are in great need. Death is terrible in any form, but the worst death is by starving. Why should we hesitate to sacrifice the finest of the cattle to the gods and satisfy our hunger on the remaining meat? As soon as we reach Ithaca, we can propitiate Helios by building him a splendid temple and filling it with precious gifts. But should he be so angry that he sends a tempest and sinks our ship on the way, well, I for my part would rather die instantly by drowning than drag out my life famishing slowly on this island.”
My hungry comrades were well-pleased with these words. They immediately singled out the best cattle from the herds of the sun-god, prayed to the gods, slaughtered the beasts, wrapped the entrails and haunches in fat, and offered them up to the immortals. Since they had no wine left, they sprinkled them with water from a spring. The rest of the meat they put on spits. They were just about to eat when I awoke and smelled the odor of roasting from far-off. I raised my hands to heaven. “O father Zeus!” I cried. “You made me drowsy to destroy me! What crime have my men committed while I slept?”
In the meantime the sun-god had already been told what had occurred in his sanctuary. Angrily he summoned the immortals and complained of the wrong done to him. He threatened to drive the sun chariot down to the underworld to shine among the dead and never again light the earth if the evildoers were not sternly punished. Zeus rose from his seat in majesty. “Do not stop shining for gods and men, Helios,” he said. “I myself shall shatter the ship of those robbers with a thunderbolt and sink it to the bottom of the sea.” These words of Zeus were reported to me by Calypso who had heard them from Hermes, the messenger of the gods.
When I joined my friends I reproved them bitterly. But it was too late. The cattle had been slaughtered, and frightful signs made it clear that a crime had been committed: the hides of the bullocks crept about as if they were alive; the meat on the spits bellowed. But my hungry men paid no attention to these evil portents. For six days they feasted. On the seventh, when the storm seemed past, we boarded our ship and steered for the sea. When we were out of sight of land, Zeus massed a roof of blue-black clouds right over our heads, and the water grew darker and darker. Suddenly a furious gale swept on us from the west. The mast broke and fell, sweeping the sails with it. The whole weight landed on our helmsman and cracked his skull. Like a diver he plunged headlong into the waves, and the waters swallowed his body. And now lightning struck the ship and filled the air with sulphurous fumes. My companions fell from the deck and struggled in the surf like sea-crows, until they all sank. I was the only one left on the ship, and I paced the deck until the sides broke away from the keel. But I had my wits about me, seized the backstay made of oxhide, and lashed the mast to the keel with it. On this raft I sat, called on the gods, and let the sea toss me hither and thither.
At last the storm abated, and the west wind died down. But the south wind began to blow in its stead and filled me with new terror, for it threatened to drive me back to Scylla and Charybdis. And this really happened! At dawn I saw Scylla’s pointed cliff dwelling and the swirling waters of Charybdis. The whirlpool swept my mast into the abyss. I myself seized the bough of a fig tree growing on the rock, clung to it, and hung in the air like a bat until my mast and keel were spewed up again. The instant I saw them, I let myself drop on my raft and used my hands to row frantically away from those angry waters. But I should have been lost, had not Zeus floated me past Scylla and guided me safely out of those narrows.
For nine days I was tossed about on the sea. On the tenth night the gods had pity on me and cast me ashore on the island of Ogygia. There Calypso gave me food and drink and nursed me back to health. But this, my last adventure, I have already told you, O king.
ODYSSEUS BIDS THE PHAEACIANS FAREWELL
Odysseus had ended the tale of his adventures and fell silent, weary with the long telling of it. The Phaeacians, who had listened with delight, were also silent, for they were still under the spell of what they had heard. Alcinous was the first to speak. “Hail to you,” he said, “the noblest guest this palace has ever sheltered! And now, since you are in my realm, I hope your wanderings are over, and that you will soon be in the house of your fathers and forget all you have suffered.” Then he turned to his friends. “Listen to what I have to say to you,” he said. “A chest has been filled with beautiful tunics and mantles for our guest, and with wrought gold and many other gifts. Let each of us add to these a large tripod and a cauldron. It is much to give, but the people will recompense us.”
All applauded this suggestion, and the gathering dispersed. On the following morning the Phaeacians brought tripods and cauldrons to the ship, and Alcinous himself helped stow them under the rowers’ benches in such a way that the oarsmen would not be hindered by them. After that, the farewell feast was held in the palace. Zeus received his share of the slaughtered cattle, and blind Demodocus sang his most beautiful songs while the guests ate at the board laden with rich and delicate food.
But Odysseus was not there in spirit. His glance kept straying to the window to look at the sun, and he yearned for the hour of its setting as fervently as the peasant who has guided the plough-share through his fields the livelong day and yearns for his evening meal. At last he could no longer restrain his eagerness and said to his kingly host: “Great Alcinous, pour the libation, and let me go! You have done for me all that my heart could desire. The gifts are on my ship, and all is ready for departure. May the immortals heap blessings on you! And may I find waiting for me faithfully my wife, my son, my kinsmen and friends.”
All the Phaeacians joined him in this wish. Alcinous bade Pontonous, the herald, fill the cups for a last time, and each man poured a libation to the gods of Olympus for the safe and joyful return of their guest. Then Odysseus rose, gave his cup to Queen Arete, and said: “Live in happiness, O queen, and may old age and death, which overtake all mortals, come to you late and lightly. I am leaving for my home. May you have joy of your husband, your children, and your people!”
So said Odysseus, and he crossed the threshold of the palace. Alcinous commanded a herald to accompany him to the ship, and Arete sent three of her servants. One carried the tunics and mantles, the second the closed chest, and the third food and wine. All these things were taken aboard. Then a thick mat was laid on the deck and smooth linen spread over it. Silently Odysseus lay down to sleep. The rowers took their places. The ship was loosed from its moorings and sped over the waters to the steady beat of the oars.
ODYSSEUS REACHES ITHACA
The sleep of Odysseus was sweet and peaceful as death. The ship glided across the sea as swiftly and safely as a four-horse chariot speeds over the plain or a hawk flies through the air. It seemed to know it was carrying a precious burden, a man who in wisdom was the peer of gods, and who had borne more than mortal suffering, though now his slumber had blotted out the memory of battle and shipwreck.
When the brightest of the stars shone in the sky, announcing the coming of day, the ship approached Ithaca, and soon it entered the bay consecrated to Phorcys, the old man of the sea. Here two rocky promontories jutted out into the waters, one on each side, and formed a safe harbor. Midway between them grew an old olive tree, and beside it was a twilit cave, the dwelling of nymphs. In it were rows of bowls and jars of stone where bees stored their honey. There were also looms of stone, strung with purple thread, which the nymphs wove into beautiful garments. Two springs, which never ran dry, gushed through the cave. It had two entrances, one toward the north wind for mortals to enter, the other, a hidden door toward the south wind, for the immortal nymphs. Near this cave the Phaeacians landed. They lifted Odysseus with the linen sheet and the mat on which he lay, and laid him down in the sand under the olive tree, still over-powered by sleep. Then they unloaded all the gifts Alcinous and Arete had sent to the ship and put them a little to one side, so that a passerby might not see them too readily and perhaps rob the sleeper. Since they dared not wake him, thinking that his deep slumber was sent by the gods, they took to their oars again and steered for home.
But Poseidon, the sea-god, was angry at the Phaeacians, because with the help of Pallas they had gone contrary to his wish that Odysseus suffer many woes; so he asked Zeus for permission to take vengeance on them. The father of gods granted his request. As their ship approached the island of Scheria and sped toward the home coast with billowing sails, Poseidon rose through the waves, struck it with the flat of his hand, and then sank back into the sea. Instantly the ship and everything on it was turned to stone and rooted fast. The Phaeacians, who had sighted the ship and run to the shore to welcome their countrymen, were amazed to see it stop in full course. But Alcinous guessed what had happened. He called an assembly and said: “I fear this is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy of which my father told me. Poseidon—so he said—hates us because, good sailors that we are, we bring all strangers who ask our help safely back to their native lands. And one day, he went on to tell me, one of our ships, returning from such a journey, would be turned to stone and would be rooted fast before our city like a rock. From this day forward we must give up our custom of seeing strangers home. But now let us sacrifice twelve bullocks to the angry sea-god, lest he surround our city with a solid wall of stone.” When they heard this, the Phaeacians shuddered with terror and hastened to prepare the victims.
Odysseus, meanwhile, had wakened. But he had been away from Ithaca so long that he did not recognize his own country. Besides, Pallas Athene had shed a mist over the land, because she did not want him to reach his palace before preparing him for what he would find there. And so everything, the winding paths, the bay, the cliffs, and the tall trees, looked unfamiliar to him. He sat up, struck his forehead with his hand, and lamented: “To what new and strange land have I come? What new monsters shall I find here? If only I had stayed with the Phaeacians, who received me so hospitably! But it seems they have betrayed me, for they promised to take me home to Ithaca, and now they have abandoned me on a foreign coast. May Zeus avenge me for this! They have, most likely, stolen the gifts I had aboard.”
He looked around and saw tripods, cauldrons, gold, and clothing in orderly piles. He began to count his goods, but nothing was missing. While he was still hesitating what to do, Athene came up to him in the shape of a youth, a shepherd, but delicately formed as the son of a king. Her mantle fell in folds from her shoulders, and she wore sandals and carried a spear in her hand. Odysseus was glad to see a human being and courteously inquired where he was and whether this were the mainland or an island. “You must be from far away,” the goddess replied, “if you do not know the name of this country. All the world has heard of it. It is, to be sure, a hilly region, and we cannot raise horses as they do in the land of the Argives. But we are not poor. The earth yields a plentiful harvest of grain and grapes. We have countless herds of cattle and goats, tall forests, and pure springs. And those who live here have helped make the land famous. Even in Troy, which is surely a distant city, people have heard of the island of Ithaca!”
How Odysseus rejoiced to hear the name of his own country! Still, he was careful not to blurt out his name to the unknown shepherd. He pretended to have come from the far-off island of Crete with half his property. The other half, so he said, he had left there for his sons. He had slain a man who tried to rob him—so he spun out his tale—and had been forced to flee from his native land. When he had finished his story, Pallas Athene smiled and passed her hand caressingly over his face. And suddenly she changed into a tall, beautiful woman. “Really!” she said to him. “Even among the gods themselves it would take a cunning knave to outdo you! Even in your very own realm you will not cease dissembling! But let us say no more about it. I agree that you are the craftiest of men, just as I am the wisest of the immortals. Yet you did not recognize me! You did not dream that I was beside you and saw to it that the Phaeacians met you courteously and hospitably. And now I have come to help you hide the gifts they gave you, to warn you that trouble awaits you in your palace, and to discuss with you the best way to meet it.”
Odysseus looked at the goddess in astonishment and answered: “Noble daughter of Zeus, how could a mortal recognize you who can assume so many different shapes? I have not seen you in your own form since the fall of Troy. But now I beg you to tell me whether it is really true that I am in Ithaca, or whether you deceived me to comfort me in my distress?”
“Use your eyes!” Athene replied. “Do you not recognize the bay of Phorcys, that olive tree, the cave of the nymphs where you offered up many a sacrifice in days gone by, and those dark-wooded mountains, the range of Neriton?” So spoke Athene, and she dissolved the mist so that the hero saw his country clearly before him. Joyfully he threw himself on the earth, kissed it, and prayed to the nymphs, the patron deities of that place. Then the goddess helped him hide his treasure in the recesses of the cave. When they had rolled a stone in front of it, Odysseus and Athene sat down under the sacred olive tree to devise death for the suitors of whose insolence Athene told him, as well as of the faithfulness of Penelope.
“Had you not reported all this to me,” said Odysseus when he had heard what had happened, “I should have been killed on my arrival home, just as surely as Agamemnon was murdered in Mycenae. But if you, gracious goddess, give me your aid, I shall not be afraid to stand alone against three hundred foes!”
“Be of good courage, my friend,” the goddess replied. “I shall never desert you. Above all I shall see to it now that no one on this island recognizes you. The flesh shall shrivel on your stately limbs, the brown hair vanish from your head. I shall clothe you in rags which everyone will regard with loathing. Your shining eyes shall lose their luster. Not only the suitors, but even your wife and son will take you for an old and ugly stranger. And now I want you to seek out your most honest and loyal subject, the man who tends your swine and is devoted to you from the bottom of his heart. You will find him at the rock of Corax, near the spring Arethusa, where he is pasturing the herd. Sit down beside him and ask him about everything that is going on here. In the meantime I shall hasten to Sparta and recall your son Telemachus, who went there to inquire about you of Menelaus.”
“Since you knew all about me,” said Odysseus with some annoyance, “why did you not tell him in the first place? Did you want him to wander over the sea like myself, while strangers waste his substance?”
But the goddess comforted him, saying: “Do not fear for your son! I myself guided him, and my purpose in urging his journey was to mature the youth through travel and let him win glory, so that on his return he might face the suitors as a man. Rest assured that he is not suffering the slightest discomfort. He is lodged in the palace of Menelaus and has all his heart could wish. It is true that the suitors are lying in ambush for him and want to kill him before he reaches home, but I do not think this will come to pass. Long before that, many of them will sprawl dead on the ground.”
So said the goddess and lightly touched the hero with her staff. Instantly his flesh shrivelled, his back grew bent, and he looked like a ragged and dirty beggar. She handed him a staff and a patched sack which he slung over his shoulder by its frayed cord. Then she disappeared.
ODYSSEUS VISITS THE SWINEHERD
In this shape Odysseus walked over the hills to the place his patron goddess had described, and there he found Eumaeus, the swineherd, the most faithful of his servants. He was pasturing his herd on a wide piece of ground which he had hedged about with heavy stones. Within this enclosure were twelve pens, in each of which fifty sows were kept for breeding. The boars—only three hundred and sixty against six hundred sows!—were outside the pens. The reason there were so few of these was that day after day the suitors demanded a fatted boar for their feast. Four dogs, which looked as savage as wolves, guarded the herd.
The old man was cutting oxhide for sandals. He was alone. Three of his helpers were scattered over the meadow with the animals, and a fourth had gone to the city to deliver the daily boar to the palace.
The dogs were the first to notice Odysseus. They rushed at him with fierce barks, but all he did was to put aside his staff and sit down. And now he might have suffered the disgrace of being attacked by his own dogs, had not the swineherd hurried to the spot and driven them away with stones. Then he turned to his master, whom he took for a poor beggar, and said: “In another moment the dogs would have torn you to pieces, and a new burden would have been added to the weight of sorrow I already bear. It is bad enough that I must mourn for my master who is far away! Here I sit and have to fatten boars for strangers, while he himself, perhaps, has not even a crust to eat and wanders in foreign lands—that is, if he is, still among the living! But come into my hut, poor old man. Let me give you food and wine, and when you have satisfied your hunger, you can tell me from where you have come and what you have suffered to look as wretched as you do.”
They entered the hut of the swineherd. He heaped twigs and leaves on the floor for a pallet and covered it over with the shaggy skin of a wild goat. When Odysseus thanked him for his kind reception, Eumaeus replied: “Old man, one should never neglect a guest, not even the poorest. To be sure, I have not much to offer. If my good master had stayed at home, things would be better with me. He would have seen to it that I had a house, land, and a wife. Then I could play the host in quite another fashion! But he is away—perhaps dead. And I wish ill luck to all of Helen’s line, she who is responsible for the death of so many brave men!”
So saying, the swineherd bound up his tunic with his belt and went to the pens where there were countless young pigs. He took two and slaughtered them, to have something to set before his guest. Then he cut up the meat, sprinkled it with white flour, roasted it on spits, and handed it to Odysseus. From a large jug he poured honey-sweet wine into a wooden bowl, seated himself opposite him, and said: “Eat now, stranger! This is the best I have to offer. It is only the meat of young pigs, for the suitors get all the fatted boars. They are insolent men with even less fear of the gods than pirates! They must have heard that my master is dead, for they do not woo his wife according to the custom of righteous men. They never return to their own homes at all, but stay here squandering the property of Odysseus. They do not slaughter his cattle once or even twice a day, but every hour, and they eat and drink day and night! My lord is as rich as twenty other kings put together. He has twelve herds of cattle and as many herds of sheep, swine, and goats on his farms where his herdsmen and servants tend them for him. Here alone, he has eleven flocks of goats watched over by faithful men, but each man is forced to deliver a he-goat to the suitors day after day. I take care of his swine, and every morning I too must send those greedy guzzlers a boar.”
As the herdsman talked, Odysseus quickly ate the meat and drained his cup without answering, like one who is not thinking of what he is doing. His mind was already intent on the revenge he was going to take on the suitors. When he had satisfied his hunger and thirst and Eumaeus had filled his bowl again, he drank to his health and said in a kind voice: “Describe your master to me in greater detail, my friend. It is quite possible that I know him, that I have met him somewhere, for I have been around in the world a good bit.”
But the swineherd had small faith in this possibility. “Do you think it would be easy for a stranger, a wayfarer, to make us believe what he tells us about our master?” he said. “During the past years, vagabonds who wanted food and shelter have frequently come to my mistress and her son and told them tales of our dear lord which moved them to tears. But I am certain they lied to get food or clothing, and that dogs and birds have devoured his flesh, or fish have eaten it, and that his bare bones are bleaching on some alien shore. Never again will I have so good a master! He was a kind and thoughtful man! When I think of him it is less as my lord than as an elder brother.”
“Well then, because your doubting heart denies so firmly that he will return,” Odysseus said, “I swear to you that he will! I do not lie like those other men who only wanted to get a new tunic or mantle with their tales! I shall not expect rewards until he returns. Though I am in rags and tatters, I shall tell only the truth: before the year is up—I swear it by Zeus, by your hospitable board, and by the herds of Odysseus!—your master will enter his house and punish the suitors who dare to make the life of his wife and son a burden to them.”
“Old man,” said Eumaeus, “I shall not have to reward you for your prediction, for Odysseus will not return. Do not spin out your foolish fancies. Drink your wine and let us talk of other things. I shall not hold you to your oath. I have no hopes concerning Odysseus, but I am troubled about Telemachus. I hoped to see him like his father both in body and spirit. But a god or a mortal has addled his brain, for he has gone to Pylos to make inquiries about my master. In the meantime, the suitors are lying in ambush, waiting to kill him, the last scion of the age-old line of Arcisius. But now tell me your own griefs. Who are you, and what has brought you to Ithaca?”
Odysseus amused himself by telling the swineherd a long story in which he presented himself as the impoverished son of a rich man on the island of Crete and invented the wildest adventures. He claimed to have been in the war of Troy and to have come across Odysseus there. On the way home, he said, a tempest had cast him ashore on the coast of the Thesprotians, whose king had given him news of Odysseus. The king said that he had been his guest a short time ago and that he had left to travel to the oracle of Dodona to hear the bidding of Zeus.
When Odysseus had finished his web of lies, the swineherd said: “Unhappy stranger! How you have touched me to the quick with the descriptions of your wanderings! The only thing I do not believe is what you have told me about Odysseus. An Aetolian assured me years ago that he had seen my master on Crete, where he was mending his ship. He said Odysseus was certain to come home that very summer, or in the autumn at the latest. And he invented all those lies because he was being hunted for murder and wanted to ingratiate himself with me. Ever since then I have been suspicious of anyone who claims to have seen Odysseus! You shall enjoy my hospitality without being driven to lies.”
“Let us make a bargain,” said Odysseus. “If your master really returns, you shall give me a tunic and mantle and send me to Dulichium, where I want to go. If he does not, bid your helpers cast me from a cliff into the sea, as an example to other beggars given to lying.”
“That would be small glory for me!” the swineherd objected. “How could I kill the guest I took into my own hut? If I did that, I could never pray to Zeus any more. But it is time for our supper. The rest will soon be here, and then we shall make merry together.” Shortly after this the other herdsmen arrived, and Eumaeus had them slaughter a five-year-old boar in honor of his guest. Part of it was offered up to the nymphs and the god Hermes. The men had an ample share, but the best piece, cut from the back, was given to the guest, even though he looked like a beggar to his host.
This moved Odysseus, and he cried out gratefully: “May Zeus cherish you, Eumaeus, as you have cherished me, though I am sorry enough to look at!” The swineherd thanked him and pressed him to eat. While they feasted, clouds drove across the moon, the west wind howled around the hut, and rain began to fall in torrents. Odysseus felt cold in his beggar’s rags, and, in order to attract his host’s attention to his plight and induce him to offer his own warm mantle, he began to tell a story he invented on the spur of the moment.
“Listen, Eumaeus, and you other herdsmen,” he said. “Your wine has loosened my tongue, and I am tempted to relate what had perhaps better be left unsaid. Once, during the siege of Troy, when the three of us, Odysseus, Menelaus, and myself, together with our warriors, lay in ambush in a reedy swamp close to the walls of the city, night fell, and it became very cold. The north wind blew flurries of snow about us, and soon our shields were rimmed with ice. This did not matter to my friends. They wrapped themselves in their mantles and slept warmly enough. But I had left my mantle behind in the camp, since I had not counted on such weather. Now a good part of the night was still to come, and I knew that it would be coldest just before dawn. So I nudged Odysseus, who lay beside me, with my elbow and said to him: ‘If this cold keeps up, I shall freeze to death! An evil god prompted me to set out in nothing but my tunic.’ When Odysseus heard this, he whispered back: ‘Don’t let anyone hear you! You shall soon have what you need!’ He crooked his elbow, raised his head a little, and called softly to the others: ‘Friends, the gods have sent me a warning dream! It seems we have ventured too far from our ships. Will not one of you go and ask Agamemmon to send us more men?’ At his words Thoas, son of Andraemon, jumped up, eager to do his bidding, flung his mantle to the ground, and ran off to the camp. I picked it up, wrapped it around me, and slept comfortably until morning. If I were as young and strong now as I was then, perhaps some herdsman here would lend me his mantle to shelter me from the cold of night. But old and poor as I am, no one cares how much I freeze in these rags of mine!”
“That was a fine hint you gave us in your tale,” said Eumaeus laughing. “We shall certainly take it, and you shall lack neither clothing nor anything else. Tomorrow you must put on your rags again, though, for we have no mantles to spare. But should the son of Odysseus return safely, he will surely give you a tunic and mantle and have you conducted wherever you wish to go.” And with that, Eumaeus took soft fleeces and heaped them near the hearth. When Odysseus lay down on them the swineherd covered him with his own thick mantle. While the others also settled down to sleep, he himself took his weapons in hand and prepared to spend the night near the pens. He took a shaggy goat-skin to shield him from the wind, and another to serve as bedding. In his hand he carried a sharp spear to fend off thieves or dogs. Odysseus watched him leave the hut and felt glad that he had a faithful servant who cared for his master’s possessions so conscientiously, even though he thought him dead.
TELEMACHUS LEAVES SPARTA
In the meantime Pallas Athene flew to Sparta, where she found the two youths from Pylos and Ithaca on couches in the palace of King Menelaus. Peisistratus, son of Nestor, was sound asleep, but Telemachus lay awake, worrying about his father. Suddenly he saw the daughter of Zeus standing at the foot of his bed. “Telemachus,” she said, “you do not do well in staying away from home while wanton suitors are feasting and drinking in your palace. Do not delay any longer, but ask Menelaus to let you return to Ithaca before your mother is compelled to marry against her will. For her father and brothers are urging her to choose Eurymachus for her husband. He has outdone all the rest in bringing splendid gifts and has promised a large marriage settlement besides. Hasten home, and—if worst comes to worst—entrust your property to a loyal servant until such a time as the gods help you find a wife worthy of you. And one more thing: the strongest of the suitors are lying in wait for you in the strait between Ithaca and Same. They intend to kill you before you can reach your country. So steer away from there and travel only by night. A god will provide you with a fair wind. When you reach Ithaca, tell your companions to go to the city, but you yourself first visit Eumaeus who tends your swine. Stay with him until the following morning and from there send word of your safe arrival to Penelope, your mother.”
When she had spoken thus, the goddess returned to high Olympus. But Telemachus touched his friend’s boot with his heel and said: “Wake up, Peisistratus! Let us yoke the horses and start for home!”
“What was that?” the other answered drowsily. “You surely don’t want to leave now, at dead of night? Wait until morning. King Menelaus will give us gifts in parting and speed us on our way with words of friendship.” They were still discussing their journey when dawn came. Menelaus was up even before his guests. When Telemachus saw him walking through the hall, he quickly put on his tunic, slung his mantle over his shoulder, approached the king, and begged him to let him leave for home that very day.
“I shall not keep you if you long for your country,” Menelaus replied. “A host who burdens his guest with too insistent hospitality is a foe rather than a friend. It is just as discourteous to hold back one who wishes to hasten away as to remind one who lingers of departure. Wait just long enough for me to put gifts into your chariot, and for the women to prepare a meal for you.”
“Noble Menelaus,” said Telemachus, “the only reason I wish to return to Ithaca is that I myself may not be killed while I am making inquiries about my father. It seems that dangers are in store for me, and that I am much needed in my palace.”
When Menelaus heard this, he hurried to have the food made ready, and went to his storeroom together with Helen and his son Megapenthes. Here he selected a cup of gold and a silver pitcher. Helen looked through her chest and fetched out the most beautiful of the garments she herself had woven. With these gifts the three returned to their guest. Menelaus offered him the cup, Megapenthes set the pitcher before him, and Helen went up to him, carrying the garment, and said: “Take this gift, dear Telemachus, as a remembrance of Helen’s art. Your bride shall wear it on her wedding day. Until then, let it lie in your mother’s chest. But for you I wish a glad heart and a safe return to your father’s house.”
Telemachus accepted the gifts with courteous words of thanks, and his friend Peisistratus admired them and stowed them away in the chariot. Then Menelaus feasted with the two youths for the last time. When they had already mounted the chariot, the king came with a full cup, poured a libation to the gods, imploring them to give the youths a happy homecoming, and bade them farewell and sent his greetings to his old friend Nestor. While Telemachus was still thanking his host, an eagle flew up from the court, to the right of the horses, carrying a white goose in his talons, and a crowd of men and women followed shouting. All rejoiced in this sign of good omen, and Helen said: “Listen to my prophecy, my friends! As the eagle flew from his mountain aerie and snatched the goose fattened on the food of our house, so Odysseus will return from his long wanderings and avenge the wrong done him by the suitors who have grown fat on his provisions.”
“May Zeus make this come true!” cried Telemachus. “And if he does, we shall pray to you as to a goddess, Queen Helen.”
And now the two set out in their chariot. They spent the night with Diocles in Pherae, who again received them with warm hospitality, and on the second day reached the city of Pylos. As they approached the gates, Telemachus turned to his young friend and said: “Dear Peisistratus, even though our fathers know and value each other, and though this journey we have taken together has made us such good friends, I do not want to enter the city with you. Do not be angry with me for this! It is only that I fear your father will want to keep me as his guest out of the kindness of his heart, and you know yourself how important it is for me to get home as quickly as possible.”
Peisistratus agreed that this would be the better course, and he guided the horses around the city confines and straight to the shore and the ship of Telemachus. Here he bade his friend a tender farewell and said: “Now board your ship and leave as soon as you can, for if my father heard you were here, he would come and urge you to spend the night in our palace.” Telemachus did as Nestor’s son had bidden him. His companions boarded the ship and seated themselves at the oars. He himself stayed ashore near the stern just long enough to make an offering to Athene, his protectress.
While he was still praying to the goddess, a man came toward him in great haste, stretched his hands out toward him, and cried: “By your offering, O youth, by the gods, and by the welfare of your house and your people, tell me who you are and where you live!” When Telemachus briefly told him what he wanted to know, the stranger continued: “I too am on a journey. I am Theoclymenus, the soothsayer. My family comes from Pylos, but I myself lived in Argos. There I slew a man in a fit of anger. He has powerful kinsmen, and I am fleeing from his brothers and other male relatives, who have sworn to kill me. Henceforth I have no choice but to roam through the world as an exile. Regard me as a suppliant, and let me board your ship with you, for my pursuers are at my heels!”
Telemachus, who was of a kindly disposition, gladly asked the stranger into his ship and promised to see to it that he wanted for nothing when they reached Ithaca. He took the spear from the soothsayer’s hands and laid it on the deck. Then he went aboard with Theoclymenus and sat down beside him in the stern. The ropes which bound the ship to the shore were loosed, the mast, carved of pine, was fitted into its socket, and the white sails were fastened to the yards. A fair wind bellied out the cloth, and through the rushing waves the ship sped out to sea.
WITH THE SWINEHERD
On the evening of that very day Odysseus had his meal with Eumaeus and the other herdsmen. To try his host and to find out how long he would give shelter to a poor beggar, Odysseus said to him after they had finished eating: “Tomorrow, my friend, I shall take my beggar’s staff and set out for the town, for I do not want to be a burden to you. Tell me the best way to go, and give me a guide as far as the gates; then I shall wander about and see where I can get a little bread and wine. I should also like to go to the palace and tell Penelope what I know about Odysseus. Who knows but that the suitors may give me food and shelter in return for a little work? For I am very good at splitting wood, making a fire, turning the spit, serving meat and wine, and doing other things the rich expect from the poor.”
But Eumaeus frowned and replied: “What talk is this! Do you want to walk straight to your own destruction? Do you really think those arrogant suitors want such as you for servants? They have quite other persons to see to their needs. Boys with blooming faces, with perfumed hair and dainty tunics walk among the tables loaded with meat, bread, and wine, and pass the platters. Better stay with us—you are no burden—and wait until Telemachus returns and supplies you with clothing and food.”
Odysseus accepted this offer with thanks and then begged the herdsman to tell him about his master’s parents—whether they were still living or had gone the dark path to Hades. “Laertes, his father, is still alive,” said Eumaeus. “But he mourns Odysseus and Anticlea, his own wife, who died of sorrow for her lost son. I too lament the death of that good woman, for it was she who brought me up with her daughter Ctimene, almost as if I had been her own child. Later, when her daughter married a man from Same, the mother fitted me out and sent me here, to the country. Now, to be sure, I have been deprived of many things, and live by my work as well as I can. Penelope, who is queen now, can do nothing at all for me. She is surrounded and spied on by her suitors, and an honest servant is not even admitted to her presence.”
“But where do you come from, and how did you happen to get to the palace in Ithaca?” Odysseus asked.
The swineherd filled his guest’s bowl and answered: “Drink, old man, while I tell you a story which I hope will not tire you. This is the season when the nights are long, and there is time both for talk and for sleep. Beyond Ortygia lies the island of Syria. It has not a large population, though the soil is fertile. Two cities are on it. Both were governed by a mighty king, by my father Ctesius, son of Ormenus. When I was quite a small boy, dishonest seamen from Phoenicia landed there. They had all sorts of fine wares for sale on their ship and stayed near our coast for a long time. Now in our palace was a woman from Phoenicia. My father had bought her as a slave. She was slender and lovely, skilled in crafts, and well-liked by everyone in our household. She fell in love with one of the traders from her own country, and the man promised to take her to Sidon. The faithless slave, on her part, pledged him certain things in return. Not only would she bring him gold to pay her passage, but something better! For—so she told him—she was the nurse of the little prince! He was bright for his age and went with her whenever she had to do errands for the house. It would be easy to get him to come to the ship, and he should sell well enough to fetch the trader a substantial profit.
“So the woman made a bargain with him and returned to the palace. The traders remained on our island for a full year. When they finally loaded their ship and prepared to sail for home, one of them came to the palace with a necklace of gold and amber beads for sale. My mother and her tirewomen were grouped around him, passed the charming trinket from hand to hand, examined it, and offered him their price. While this was going on, the man nodded to the Phoenician, and hardly had he left the house before she took me by the hand and led me out. As we passed through the room which lay before the great hall, she saw the board spread for my father’s guests. I watched her take three gold cups and hide them in the folds of her mantle, but I was too unsuspecting to give it a thought and followed her. The sun was just setting when we reached the harbor and boarded the ship with the rest of the crew.
“We left with a favorable wind, but when we were about six days out at sea, the false woman fell dead, struck by an arrow of Artemis, so they said, dead as a sea-fowl shot by the hunter. They threw her overboard as food for the fish, and I, a little child, was left alone among strangers, not one of whom had pity on me. After a time they landed in Ithaca, where Laertes bought me from the traders. That was the first time I ever saw this island.”
“Well,” said Odysseus, “you need not lament your fate too bitterly! For along with the bad, Zeus gave you much good. He put you into the hands of a good man who took care of your needs and on whose land you are still living well. I, on the other hand, am a beggar, wandering about in eternal exile.”
While they were talking, the hours had sped. There was only a little time left to sleep before the dawn woke them.
That very morning Telemachus and his companions landed on the coast of Ithaca. Following Athene’s advice he ordered them to row on to the city, while he himself went ashore to visit the swineherd. He promised the men their pay and a merry feast on the following day. “But where shall I go, my son?” asked Theoclymenus. “Who will give me shelter in the city? Shall I go straight to your mother’s palace?”
“If things at home were as they should be,” Telemachus replied, “I should urge you to go there without more ado. But as it is, the suitors would never admit you, and my mother keeps to her room. It would be wiser for you to go to the house of Eurymachus, son of Polybus of Ithaca, a man highly esteemed by his countrymen. Besides, Eurymachus is the most reasonable of my mother’s suitors.”
While he was speaking, a hawk flew by on his right. In its talons was a dove whose feathers it was plucking as it flew. When the soothsayer saw this, he took the young man aside and whispered to him: “If my knowledge of signs does not trick me, this is a happy omen for your house! Never will another line rule in Ithaca. It is you and yours who will govern this land forever!”
Before bidding farewell to Theoclymenus, Telemachus commended him to the care of his best friend, Peiraeus, son of Clytius, to whom he sent word to take the seer into his house until he, Telemachus, came to the city. Then he left the ship and went his way on foot.
In the meantime Odysseus and the swineherd were preparing the morning meal, while the helpers drove the herd to pasture. They had just begun to eat when they heard steps and the dogs jumped up. They did not snarl, but rather seemed to bark a joyful welcome. “A friend must be coming to see you,” said Odysseus. “The dogs would not act this way toward strangers.”
Hardly had the last word left his lips when he saw his own dear son Telemachus standing on the threshold. The herdsman dropped his bowl in glad excitement and ran to his young master. He embraced him and covered his head, his eyes, and his hands with kisses, weeping with joy, as though he were seeing some-one he loved who had escaped from death. An old father welcoming his late-born son when he comes home after ten years in foreign lands could not have been happier! Telemachus did not enter the hut until Eumaeus had told him that nothing of importance had happened in the palace during his absence. Then he handed the swineherd his lance and went in. Odysseus wanted to give him his seat, but Telemachus waved him back with kindly words: “Stay where you are, stranger,” he said. “Eumaeus will find a place for me.” And the herdsman was, indeed, already heaping a pile of twigs and leaves and spreading over these a soft fleece. And now Telemachus sat down, and the swineherd served him with roast meat and bread, and mixed wine and water in a wooden bowl. While the three ate, Telemachus asked Eumaeus about the stranger, and the old man gave him a brief outline of the long tale Odysseus had invented about himself. “And now,” he concluded, “he has fled from a Thesprotian ship and taken shelter with me. I shall put him in your hands. Do with him as you please.”
“I am alarmed at the very idea,” Telemachus replied. “How can I take this man home with me—old and weak as he is? It will be better for you to keep him here a while longer. I shall send him a tunic, a mantle, sandals, and a sword, and food enough so that you and your helpers need not share your stores with him. But he must not appear before the suitors, for they are so insolent that even a powerful man could not prevail against them.”
Odysseus expressed his amazement at the fact that the suitors dared defy the son of the house. “Can it be,” he asked Telemachus, “that your people hate you? Or have you a quarrel with your brothers? Or do you let those men oppress you of your own free will? If I were as young as you and the son of Odysseus, I should rather let myself be knocked senseless or die in my own house than passively watch such goings on!”
Telemachus answered quietly: “The people do not hate me, and I have no brothers. I am an only son. But many men from the surrounding islands and from Ithaca itself are wooing my mother and regard me as their enemy. She has been evading them, but they stay, and soon I shall have nothing left to my name.” Then he turned to the swineherd and said: “And now do me the favor of going to the city and telling my mother that I have returned. But do not let the suitors hear you!”
“Would it not be better for me to go by way of your grandfather Laertes?” Eumaeus asked. “They say that since you left for Pylos, he has neither eaten nor drunk, and has not even gone out to watch over the work done in his fields. He just sits there overcome with grief and grows feebler every day.”
“In spite of that I cannot let you go the long way around,” said Telemachus. “My mother must be the first to hear of my homecoming. She will send a servant to bring the news to my grandfather.” And he urged the old man out of the hut. Eumaeus bound his sandals to his feet, took a lance in his hand, and hastened away.
ODYSSEUS REVEALS HIMSELF TO HIS SON
Pallas Athene had only waited for Eumaeus to leave the hut. The instant he was gone she appeared on the threshold in the form of a tall, beautiful woman. She did not reveal herself to Telemachus, but only to his father and the dogs, who did not bark but whined and ran to the other side of the court. The goddess motioned to Odysseus. He understood what she wanted and went outside. She met him at the wall and said: “Odysseus, you need no longer conceal your true self from your son. It will be better if both of you go to the city together to bring doom to the suitors. I shall not fail to join you, for I burn with eagerness to punish those scoundrels.” So said the goddess and touched the beggar with her golden staff. And a miracle took place. He grew taller, his face became smooth and tanned, and his hair and beard were thick and curled. A fine tunic and mantle clothed his strong, bronzed limbs. When she had brought about this change, the goddess vanished.
Odysseus reentered the hut, and his son gazed at him in amazement. Then he turned away his face, for he thought he was in the presence of a god, and said: “Stranger, you look very different now than before! You have other clothing, and your very features have changed. You must be one of the immortals! Let me bring you an offering and implore your favor.”
“I am no god,” Odysseus replied. “Look at me, Telemachus! Do you not recognize your own father, for whom you have grieved so many years?” And as he spoke the tears gushed from his eyes. He hastened toward his son and clasped him in his arms.
But Telemachus found it difficult to believe the truth. “No, no,” he cried. “You are not Odysseus, my father! A god is tricking me only to plunge me deeper into despair. How could a mortal bring about such a change in his appearance with his own mortal powers?”
“Do not be so astonished, dear Telemachus,” said Odysseus. “It is really I who have returned to my country after an absence of twenty years—I and none other. It was Athene who transformed me, first into a stooping old beggar, and then back into a strong man. For the gods find it easy to make a man seem noble or base.” So said Odysseus and seated himself. And now Telemachus took courage and put his arms around his father. Both father and son were stirred by the long years of sorrow they had suffered, and they lamented as loudly as parent birds whose unfledged young have been stolen from the nest. When they had wept their fill, Telemachus at last asked his father on what ship he had come home. Odysseus told him the story and then said: “And now that I am here, my son, Athene wants us to take counsel as to the best way to revenge ourselves on our foes. Name the suitors to me so that I may know how many of them there are and whether the two of us are enough to cope with them, or whether we should look around for allies.”
“Your glorious deeds have been told me over and over, father,” Telemachus answered. “I know that you are both strong and wise. Nevertheless, we two could never prevail against the suitors. It is not as if there were ten or even twenty of them. There are many more: fifty-two of the boldest young men from Dulichium alone, and six servants to boot; twenty-four from Same; twenty from Zacynthus, and twelve from Ithaca. And then there is Medon, the herald, a singer, and two cooks. So, if it is at all possible, let us try to get others to help us.”
“Do not forget,” Odysseus replied, “that Athene and Zeus have allied themselves to our cause, and that once the fight breaks out in my palace, they will not let us wait long for their help. Now my plan is this. You must return to the city tomorrow and take your place among the suitors as though nothing had happened. By Athene’s touch I shall again assume the shape of a beggar, and the swineherd will conduct me to the palace. No matter what they do to me there, even if they throw things at me and drag me across the threshold, you must curb your heart and bear it. You may try to calm them with words, but they will not listen to you. At a sign from me you shall take all the weapons hanging in the great hall and hide them in one of the upper chambers of the house. If the suitors notice they are gone and ask about them, say you have had them removed because soot from the hearth has dimmed the gleam they had when Odysseus still used them. Leave out only two swords, two spears, and two oxhide shields for us to fight with when our enemies, in the blind confusion the gods will send upon them, try to attack us. For the rest, no one must know that Odysseus has returned, not Laertes, not the swineherd, and not even Penelope, your mother. In the meantime I shall test the servants and find out who still honors and fears me, and who has forgotten me and does not reverence you.”
“Dear father,” said Telemachus, “I shall certainly do just as you say. But I do not think testing the servants will help us. It will take too long. It will be easy enough, of course, to find out about the women in the palace, but as for the men on your farms, let us leave that for the time when you are again king in your own palace.” Odysseus agreed with his son and rejoiced in his clear-headed thinking.
THE CITY AND THE PALACE
In the meanwhile the ship which had brought Telemachus and his companions home from Pylos had run into port, and a herald had been sent on ahead to the palace to tell Penelope of her son’s return. The swineherd arrived with the same news, and the two met in the king’s house. The herald was first to speak. He said aloud to the queen in the presence of her tirewomen: “Your son, O queen, has returned.” But Eumaeus spoke to her alone, without eavesdroppers, and repeated what his young master had said; he also begged her to send on the good news to his grandfather Laertes. As soon as the swineherd had delivered his message he hastened home to his herd. Some of Penelope’s handmaids reported the brief words of the herald to the suitors, and they gathered dejectedly outside the gates and seated themselves on the polished stones to take counsel with one another. Eurymachus opened the assembly. “We surely would never have believed that this boy would carry out his purpose and accomplish this journey,” he said. “Let us quickly prepare a swift-sailing ship and send a message to our friends who are lying in ambush, so that they wait no longer but return.”
While Eurymachus was speaking, Amphinomus, another suitor, had looked toward the harbor which was easily visible from the forecourt of the palace. And there he saw the ship with those suitors who had gone to lie in ambush coming in with full sails. “We need not send a message,” he cried. “There they are! Either a god has told them of the return of Telemachus, or they have been pursuing his ship and could not catch up with him.”
All the suitors rose and hurried down to the shore. Then, together with those who had just arrived, they went to the market place where they held an assembly. Antinous, leader of the party which had set out for the strait, defended himself and his comrades. “It was not our fault that he got away,” he said. “We had spies watching from the hills the livelong day, and after sunset we did not stay ashore but crossed and recrossed the strait, thinking only of capturing Telemachus and putting an end to his life. One of the immortals must have guided him, for we did not even catch sight of his ship! But to make up for this failure, we must destroy him here, in the city, for the boy is growing too clever and will soon be too much for us. In the end he will make the people rebellious too. If they find out that we have lain in ambush to murder him, they will drive us out of the country. Rather than have that happen, let us get him out of the way, divide up his possessions among us, and leave the palace to his mother and her husband-to-be. But if my plan does not appeal to you, if you want him to live and keep his estates, then let us stop using up his stores. Let each one of us go to his home and from there woo the queen with gifts, and let her choose the one who is most generous, or the one whom Fortune favors.”
When he had finished, there was a long silence. Finally Amphinomus, son of Nisus, the noblest among the suitors, whose wisdom and courteousness had commended him even to Penelope, rose and stated his opinion to the gathering. “My friends,” he said, “I do not think we should murder Telemachus. It is a terrible crime to kill the last descendant of a kingly line. At any rate, let us first ask the gods about this. If Zeus favors the enterprise, I myself shall be willing to kill him, but if the immortals do not consent, I counsel you to give up the plan.”
The suitors agreed to do as he had advised. They postponed carrying out their scheme and returned to the palace. But this time, too, Medon, the herald, who kept secret faith with Penelope, had eavesdropped at their meeting and told the queen everything he had heard. Instantly she veiled herself and hastened down into the great hall, where she addressed the originator of the plot in a voice trembling with emotion. “Antinous,” she cried, “Ithaca is wrong in regarding you as the wisest among your countrymen. You are not really wise. You are deaf to the words of the wretched, to whom even Zeus gives ear, and insolent enough to conspire against the life of my son Telemachus. Have you forgotten that your father once fled to our house as a suppliant, because he was being hunted for having practiced piracy on our allies? His pursuers wanted to kill him, but Odysseus held them back and quieted their rage. And now you, in thanks for the help given your father, waste the goods of Odysseus, woo his wife, and want to murder his only son! You would do better to keep your companions from impious actions!”
Before Antinous could reply, Eurymachus broke in. “Have no fears for your son, Penelope,” he said. “As long as I live, no man shall dare lay hands on him. When I was a child, Odysseus sometimes took me on his knee and gave me tidbits. And so his son is dearest to me of all men. He need not be afraid of death, at least not of death at the hands of the suitors. But if the gods want him to die, their will cannot be evaded.” So said that false man with the kindliest face in the world, but his heart was black with hatred.
Penelope returned to her chamber, threw herself on her couch, and wept for her husband until Athene shed sleep on her eyes.
TELEMACHUS, ODYSSEUS, AND EUMAEUS REACH THE CITY
That evening, when the swineherd returned to his hut, he found Odysseus and Telemachus occupied in preparing a pig for the evening meal. Since Athene had again turned the hero into a ragged beggar, Eumaeus did not recognize him. “Have you come at last?” Telemachus called to him as soon as he had crossed the threshold. “And what news have you brought from Ithaca? Are the suitors still lying in wait for me, or have they given up and left their hiding-place?” Eumaeus told him of the ship he had seen returning, and Telemachus smiled knowingly at his father, but so that the swineherd did not notice it. Then the three of them ate and lay down to sleep.
The next morning Telemachus prepared to go to the city and said to Eumaeus: “Old man, I must look after my mother now. I want you to take this poor stranger to the city so that he may beg his food from house to house. I cannot possibly assume the burdens of the whole world. I have enough troubles of my own. If the old man is offended at this, so much the worse for him!”
Odysseus, who was pleasantly surprised at his son’s ability to to dissemble, answered in the swineherd’s stead: “Young man, I myself do not wish to remain here any longer. A beggar is always better off in a town than in the country. Just you go, and when I have warmed myself a little at the fire, and the sun is higher in heaven, your servant here shall guide me to the city.”
Telemachus hastened on his way. It was still fairly early in the morning when he reached the palace, and the suitors had not yet appeared. He leaned his lance against a pillar at the entrance and crossed the stone threshold of the great hall. Here Euryclea was just spreading the chairs with soft fleeces. When she saw the youth, she ran toward him with tears of joy and welcomed him home. The other servants too kissed his head and shoulders. And now Penelope came down from her chamber, slim as Artemis and lovely as Aphrodite. “Have you come back to me, dear son?” she cried, clasping him in her arms and kissing his eyes. “I despaired of seeing you again ever since I knew you had left for Pylos. But tell me—what did you find out about your father?”
“O mother,” said Telemachus mournfully, though it was very difficult for him to conceal his true feelings, “I have only just escaped death myself. Do not revive my grief for my father the moment I enter this house. Go to the bath, put on festal garments, and pledge hecatombs to the gods when they have granted us revenge. I myself must go to the market place to bring home a stranger who accompanied me on my voyage and whom I left with a friend until I should call for him.”
Penelope did as her son had said, while he took his spear in hand and went toward the market place with his dogs at his heels. Athene had shed such grace about him that the citizens marvelled at his beauty; the suitors overwhelmed him with flattering words, though in their hearts they brooded on their wicked plans. But Telemachus did not stay with them. He joined three of his father’s old friends, Mentor, Antiphus, and Halitherses, and told them as much as he was allowed to. And now Peiraeus brought to him Theoclymenus, the soothsayer, and Telemachus greeted both. Peiraeus at once begged him to send servants to his house to fetch the presents Menelaus had given Telemachus in parting. But Telemachus said: “The gifts are safer in your house, for I do not know what turn my affairs will take. If the suitors murder me and divide up my possessions, then I should like you to have those beautiful things rather than they. But if I succeed in punishing and destroying them, why then, come gayly and bring the treasures to your glad friend.”
So saying, Telemachus took Theoclymenus by the hand and led him toward the palace. There both had a refreshing bath and ate the morning meal in Penelope’s company. Then she sat at her spindle and said sadly to her son: “There is really no reason why I should not return to my lonely chamber and wet my couch with tears, as I have done all these years, for it seems you will tell me nothing you have heard about your father.”
“Dear mother,” Telemachus said to her, “I shall gladly tell you all I have heard and only wish it were news that could be of comfort to you. Old Nestor received me well in Pylos, but he knew nothing at all of my father. So he sent me to Sparta with his son. There I was entertained by Menelaus and Helen, for whose sake the Argives and Trojans suffered so much and so long. There I learned the scant bit which Proteus, the sea-god, had told Menelaus. It was that he had seen Odysseus sorrowing on the island of Ogygia, where Calypso is keeping him in her grotto against his will. He has neither a ship nor oarsmen to take him home.”
When Theoclymenus, the soothsayer, saw that Penelope was deeply moved by these words, he interrupted his young host and said: “He does not know everything, O queen! Listen to my prediction: Odysseus is already in his native land, waiting or prowling about secretly and plotting the death of your suitors. This I know from the flight of birds, and I told your son the moment I saw the omen.”
“May your prediction come true!” said Penelope with a sigh. “I shall not fail to give you rich rewards.”
While these three were talking, the suitors were amusing themselves in the court as usual. They threw the discus and hurled the javelin until the herald summoned them to the midday meal. Eumaeus and his guest had, in the meantime, set out for the city. Odysseus had slung his beggar’s scrip across his shoulder, and the swineherd had put a staff in his hand. Soon they came to the city well which the ancestors of Odysseus had walled in with stone. All about it was a grove of poplars, and the water gushed forth in a clear stream. Here they met the goatherd Melantheus with two of his helpers, driving the best goats in his herd to the city as food for the wooers.
When Melantheus saw Eumaeus and his companion, he began to revile them both. “There you are!” he exclaimed. “Birds of a feather flock together! There is one scoundrel leading another. Where are you taking that hungry beggar, swineherd? To the city, to go from door to door, lazily begging a crust? If you handed him over to me, he could sweep out the pens and carry young shoots to the kids. Who knows but that he might fatten up a bit on a diet of goat cheese? But he has, of course, learned nothing and can do nothing but beg to fill his belly.” So he spoke and kicked the beggar in the hip. But Odysseus did not stumble. He did, to be sure, turn over in his mind whether to strike this insolent fellow over the head so hard that he would never rise again. But he curbed his anger and suffered the insult without a word.
Eumaeus, however, did not restrain his rage. He scolded the goatherd soundly and then turned to the well. “Holy nymphs, daughters of Zeus,” he said, “if ever my lord has brought you precious offerings, grant my prayer that he may soon return. He would quickly punish this churlish man! He is the worst goat-herd in the world, and all he can do is idle away his time in the town.”
“You dog!” Melantheus retorted. “All you are good for is to be sold on the islands as a slave! You might fetch a pretty penny. For the rest, I wish Apollo’s arrow or the spear of a suitor might strike that Telemachus of yours, so that he joined his father in the underworld.” With this parting shot he went on to the palace and seated himself right opposite Eurymachus, for he was well-liked among the suitors who permitted him to share their feasts.
A little later the swineherd and Odysseus reached the palace. When the hero saw the house from which he had been absent so long a time, his heart beat high. He took his companion by the hand and said: “Eumaeus, this must be the house of Odysseus! How splendid it is, and how many rooms it has! How solid is the wall around the court, and what tall, wide gates flank the entrance ! It seems a strong fortress as well as a palace. And feasting must be going on inside, for I can catch the scent of roast meat, and can hear the voice of a singer who is seasoning the banquet with his songs.”
They took counsel with each other and decided that Eumaeus should go first and reconnoitre in the hall, while Odysseus waited in front of the gate. They were still conferring about this, when an old dog lying at the door lifted his head, pricked his ears, and rose. His name was Argus. Odysseus himself had bred him before setting out for Troy. He had been a good hunting dog, but now, in his old age, the men neglected him and let him sleep on a dung-heap, swarming with flies. When Argus noticed Odysseus, he seemed to recognize him in spite of his disguise, for he dropped his ears and wagged his tail. But he was too weak to go up to him. Odysseus quickly wiped away a tear, but he hid his sadness and said: “That dog was not a bad sort in his prime. You can still see that he is a thoroughbred.”
“He is indeed,” Eumaeus replied. “He was my master’s favorite hound. You should have seen him racing through the valley and following the scent of game in the underbrush! But now, since his master is gone, no one pays any attention to him. He is utterly neglected, and the servants do not even bother to feed him.” And Eumaeus entered the palace. But the dog, who had seen his master again after twenty years, put his head down between his paws and died.
ODYSSEUS, THE BEGGAR, IN THE HALL
Telemachus was the first to see the swineherd come into the hall, and with a nod he called him to his side. Eumaeus looked around cautiously and took a stool that was standing near, on which the carver sat when carving for the wooers. This he placed at Telemachus’ table and seated himself opposite him, and the herald immediately served him with meat and bread. Soon after, Odysseus tottered in, leaning heavily on his staff, and sat down on the ashen threshold. The instant Telemachus saw him, he took a whole loaf from the basket in front of him, as well as a large piece of meat, and gave these things to the swineherd with the words: “Take these gifts to the stranger, my friend, and tell him not to be ashamed, but to beg among the suitors.”
Odysseus received the gifts and raised both hands to bless the giver. Then he placed the food on the sack at his feet and began to eat.
All through the feast Phemius, the singer, had charmed the guests with his song. Now he fell silent, and the wild carousing of the banqueters filled the hall. This was the moment Athene chose to approach Odysseus, invisible to all. She urged him to beg crusts from the suitors so that he might learn which were brutal and which more kindly. Not that the goddess did not plan death for all alike, but some were to suffer less than others. Odysseus did her bidding and went from man to man, holding out his hand in pleading as if he had been a beggar all his life. A few were compassionate and gave him food, and the question arose where he had come from. Then Melantheus, the goatherd, said: “I have seen that old fellow before. Eumaeus brought him along with him.”
Angrily Antinous turned to the swineherd. “Why did you bring him to this city?” he shouted at him. “Haven’t we loafers enough? Do you think we need another mouth to feed in this hall?”
“You are a harsh man,” Eumaeus answered quietly. “All great men vie in calling to their palaces seers, physicians, builders, and singers who gladden us with their song. But no one ever invites a beggar. He comes of his own accord, but that is no reason to throw him out. And this shall not be done here as long as Penelope and Telemachus live in the house.”
But Telemachus bade him be silent, saying: “Do not trouble to answer, Eumaeus. You know that this man is in the habit of uttering insults. As for you, Antinous, let me tell you that you are not my guardian and therefore have no right to make me drive a stranger from my door. Better give him all he needs. But I know, of course, that you prefer to eat all you can yourself, rather than share with others.”
“Listen to that boy gibing at me!” cried Antinous. “But I say that if all the wooers would hand that beggar as much as I, he would not have to beg for three months running.” And with that he lifted a stool threateningly. Odysseus was just coming toward him to ask for alms and, as he did so, he began to complain of his long wanderings through Egypt and Cyprus. Antinous answered him sourly: “What god has sent us this greedy, forward fellow? Go away from this table, or I’ll Egypt and Cyprus you!” And when Odysseus withdrew, grumbling at his inhospitable manner, Antinous threw the stool at him, and it struck his shoulder close to the neck. But Odysseus stood unshaken as a rock and silently shook his head, pondering evil in his heart. Then he returned to the threshold, set down his full scrip, and complained aloud of Antinous to the rest of the company. But Antinous cut him short. “Silence!” he roared. “Shut your mouth and stuff your belly, or I shall catch hold of you and drag you over the threshold by hands and feet and flay you alive!”
Such coarseness was too much even for the suitors. One of them rose and said: “Antinous, you have not done well to throw things at this unfortunate stranger. What if he were a messenger of the gods who has assumed mortal shape—for that sometimes happens?” But Antinous paid no attention to this warning. Telemachus said nothing at all at this abuse of his father. He nursed his anger in silence.
Through the open window of her chamber, Penelope could hear everything that was taking place in the great hall, and she felt sorry for the beggar. She had Eumaeus brought to her in secret and commanded him to conduct the stranger to her. “Perhaps,” she added, “he can tell me something about my husband. He may even have seen him, for it seems he has wandered all over the world.”
“Yes,” said Eumaeus. “Had the suitors been quiet, he could have told them many things. He has been staying with me for three days, and his tales delighted me as if they were recited by a singer. He comes from Crete, and he claims that his father and the father of Odysseus were bound by ties of hospitality. He asserts that Odysseus is now in the land of the Thesprotians and will soon return laden with treasure.”
“Go quickly,” said Penelope, deeply moved. “Bring the stranger here, and let him tell me! Oh, these insolent suitors! What we lack is a man like Odysseus. If only he were here, he and Telemachus would soon take revenge for what they have done!” She had hardly finished speaking when Telemachus sneezed so loudly that the hall echoed with the sound. Penelope smiled and said to Eumaeus: “Did you hear my son sneeze when I said that? Surely that is a good omen, so call the stranger at once.”
Eumaeus told the beggar of Penelope’s wish, but he replied: “I should very much like to tell the queen whatever I know about Odysseus, and I know a great deal! But the behavior of the suitors fills me with dread. When that man over there hurled a stool at me and hit me in the shoulder, neither Telemachus nor anyone else took my part. So ask Penelope to wait until sunset. Then, if she will let me, I shall sit at her warm hearth and tell her many things.” When Penelope heard his reply she saw that he was right, and resolved to curb her impatience.
Eumaeus returned to the hall, mingled with the suitors, and managed to whisper to Telemachus: “I am going back to my hut now, master. You will see to matters here, but I beg you to see to yourself above all, for the suitors are shrewd and vicious and are out to harm you.” But Telemachus begged him to stay until after the evening meal. He did so, and then left, promising to return on the following day and bring with him the best fatted boars he had.
ODYSSEUS AND THE BEGGAR IRUS
The suitors were still seated at the board when a notorious beggar from the town entered the hall. He was known as a big eater, but though he was tall and broad-shouldered, his muscles were weak and flabby. His real name was Arnaeus, but the young people in the city called him Irus, playing on the name of Iris, messenger of the gods, since for a small sum he carried messages from one to another. Envy had brought him to the palace, for he had heard that a rival beggar had come. Now he advanced with the intention of ariving Odysseus out of his own house. “Get away from the door, old man,” he shouted. “Don’t you see that they are all winking at me to drag you out by the feet? Better go of your own accord, and do not force me to speed you on your way!”
Odysseus gave him a black look. “There is room on the threshold for both of us,” he said. “You seem to be as poor as I. Do not envy me, for I do not begrudge you your share. And do not rouse my anger or challenge me to fight. Old as I am, the blood would soon flow from your breast and mouth, and the people in this house would not be disturbed by your presence tomorrow.”
This infuriated Irus, and he shouted louder: “See how glibly the wretch talks—like an old fish-wife! I’ll hit you right and left until your teeth drop out, as though you were a swine spilling corn! Do you want to fight me, even though I am much younger than you?”
The suitors burst out laughing when they heard the beggars quarrelling, and Antinous said: “I’ll tell you what, my friends. Do you see those goat paunches, stuffed with blood and fat, roasting on the fire? Let us use them as a prize for these noble heroes. The victor shall eat of them as much as he can, and in the future no beggar but he shall enter this hall.”
All the suitors were well-pleased with this proposal. But Odysseus played the timid old man, weakened by hardships. He begged the suitors to promise not to intervene in favor of Irus, and they promised him this without hesitation. Then Telemachus rose and said: “Stranger, if you down this fellow, then fear no man among the Achaeans. I am the host in this house, and whoever attacks you will have to reckon with me!” The suitors applauded these words. Odysseus girded up his tatters, and then all saw his sinewy thighs, his muscular arms, his broad shoulders and chest, for Athene had made him even mightier than he was.
The suitors were amazed, and one said to the other: “What sturdy limbs that old man has under his rags! Irus won’t have an easy time of it!” And Irus himself began to regret his challenge. The servants had to force him to gird himself for the fight, and his knees shook. Antinous, who had looked forward to a very different situation, said crossly: “Big-Mouth, I wish you had never been born! How can you tremble before such a feeble old man? But let me tell you that if he defeats you, you shall be put aboard ship and taken to Epirus, to King Echetus, who is the terror of all men. He will cut off your nose and ears and throw them to the dogs!” The more Antinous raged at him, the more Irus trembled. But they thrust him forward, and now both beggars raised their hands and began to fight. Odysseus deliberated whether he should kill the wretched fellow at the first blow, or strike gently, in order not to arouse the suspicions of the suitors. This seemed the wiser course to him, so when Irus struck him on the right shoulder, he only gave him a little tap under the ear. But slight as it was it crushed the bone, the blood spurted from his mouth, and Irus dropped to the floor, writhing and with teeth chattering. While the suitors howled with laughter and clapped their hands, Odysseus pulled Irus away from the threshold, out to the court and out of the gate. There he propped him against the wall, put a staff in his hands, and said mockingly: “Stay there and keep away the dogs and pigs!” Then he returned to the hall and again seated himself on the threshold.
His victory had made an impression on the suitors. They laughed, hailed him, and said: “May Zeus and the other immortals give you whatever you desire, stranger, for you have rid us of a troublesome fellow whom we shall now ship off to King Echetus.” Odysseus accepted their words as a good omen. And now Antinous gave him the big goat paunch stuffed with blood and fat, and Amphinomus added two loaves from the basket, filled a golden cup with wine, and drank to the victor. “To your health, old man,” he said. “May you be free from care in times to come!” Odysseus looked him gravely in the eyes and answered: “Amphinomus, you seem to be a reasonable young man, and I know you have a distinguished father. Take to heart what I am going to say to you: nothing on earth is more frail and uncertain than the life of man. While the gods favor him, he thinks the future can hold no danger, but when sorrow overtakes him, he finds he has not the courage to bear it. I know all this from experience. There was a time when I, too, trusting to the strength of youth, did much that I should not have done. And so I warn everyone not to be lawless at any time, but to accept the gifts of the gods in silent gratitude. For this reason it is not wise for the suitors to be so wanton and headstrong, and to offend the wife of a man who, I believe, cannot be far from home. Perhaps he is already quite near. May some god take you away from this house, Amphinomus, before he reaches his home.” So saying, Odysseus poured a libation, drank, and returned the cup to the youth. The suitor grew thoughtful, bowed his head, and walked through the hall with a heavy heart, as if he guessed what was in store for him. But he was not to escape the punishment Athene had decreed.
PENELOPE AND THE SUITORS
And now the goddess breathed into Penelope the wish to appear before the suitors, to fill their hearts with longing, and to prove her true worth and faithfulness in front of her son and husband, of whose presence, to be sure, she was not aware. Her old and loyal servant applauded her decision. “Go, daughter,” she said, “and speak words of counsel to your son while there is still time. But they must not see you down there as you are now, your lovely face stained with tears. First bathe and anoint yourself, and then confront the suitors.”
But Penelope shook her head and replied: “Do not expect that of me. Ever since my husband shipped for Troy, I have had no pleasure in adorning myself. But now call my handmaids Autonoë and Hippodamia. They shall come with me, for I do not wish to appear before those men unaccompanied.”
While Eurynome went to fetch the tirewomen, Athene lulled Penelope, reclining in a chair, into a sweet sleep which lasted no more than a few moments. But this was long enough for the goddess to endow her with unearthly beauty. She refreshed her face with ambrosia, with which Aphrodite anoints herself when she goes to dance with the Graces. She made her taller and lither and shed over her skin the whiteness of new ivory. Then Athene vanished. As her two handmaids hurried into the room, Penelope awoke, rubbed her eyes, and said: “How sweetly I slept! I wish the gods would this very instant send me so sweet a death that I would no longer have to grieve for my husband and endure what goes on in this house.” With these words she rose from her chair and descended to the suitors below. She stood in the doorway of the great hall, her beauty shining through her veil, and when the suitors saw her, their hearts beat high, and each longed to have her as his wife. But the queen turned to her son and said: Telemachus, I am surprised at you. Even as a boy you showed more sense than you do now that you are tall and grown. Why did you sit there and say nothing when the poor stranger who came to us for shelter was mocked and insulted? This will disgrace us in the eyes of the world.”
“I do not wonder at your distress, dear mother,” Telemachus replied. “And I know quite well what is right, but these men are all against me; there is not one who would support me in anything I did. As for this fight, it did not end as the suitors hoped. I only wish that they were forced to hang their heads like that miserable fellow out in the court.” Telemachus had spoken in so low a voice that the suitors could not hear him, and now Eurymachus, quite unaware of what had been said, called to the queen: “Daughter of Icarius! If the Achaeans in the whole of Greece could only see you, there would be many more suitors here tomorrow, for you excel all other women in beauty and wisdom.”
“Ah, Eurymachus,” Penelope answered, “my beauty paled when my husband left for Troy. If he came back, if my life were once more protected by his arm, I might bloom again. But now I am stricken with sorrow. When Odysseus bade me farewell, when he clasped my right hand at the wrist for the last time, he said: ‘Not all the Achaeans will return from Troy unharmed. They say that the Trojans know the art of war, that they are good at casting the javelin, shooting with the bow, and guiding their chariots. And so I do not know whether I am destined to return, or to die before Troy. Watch over the house and take care of my father and mother even more tenderly than you have been doing. And if I am not home by the time our son is grown, then marry if you like, and leave our house.’ That was what he said, and now it is all coming true. The terrible day of the wedding draws near, and I think of it with dread, for these suitors behave very differently from other wooers. If a man desires the daughter of a distinguished father as his wife, it is customary for him to bring cattle and sheep for the feast, and gifts for the bride, but not to waste the stores of another man without offering compensation.”
It gave Odysseus keen pleasure to hear her speak with such wisdom. But Antinous replied in the name of all the suitors: “Noble queen, we shall gladly bring you costly gifts and ask you to accept them. But we shall not go home until you have chosen one among us for your husband.” All the suitors applauded these words. Servants were dispatched, and soon they returned with the promised gifts. Antinous presented her with a robe, woven in many colors and fastened with twelve clasps of gold fitted to widely curved catches. Eurymachus offered a necklace of amber beads, strung on gold, and it shone like the sun. Eurydamas held out to her earrings set with three mulberry colored jewels, and Pisander gave her a pendant exquisitely wrought. The other suitors also brought costly gifts which the servants carried up after Penelope as she returned to her chamber.
ODYSSEUS MOCKED AGAIN
The suitors amused themselves riotously until nightfall. When it grew dark, handmaids brought in three braziers to light the hall and filled them with dry oak wood and resinous pine. As they were fanning the flames, Odysseus went up to them and said: “Listen to me, servants of Odysseus, of a master who has been absent from his house all too long: you should be upstairs with your noble mistress, turning the spindle and carding wool. Let me tend the fire in this hall. I shall not tire, even if the suitors stay until dawn. I am accustomed to hardship.”
The girls exchanged glances and laughed among themselves. Finally Melantho, a young handmaid whom Penelope had reared like her own child, but who now was the mistress of Eurymachus, said haughtily: “Miserable beggar! What a fool you are! You should spend the night at a smithy or with some other host of humble birth, instead of trying to lay down the law to us here, where there are men of noble family. Are you drunk, or is it just that you have no sense? Or did your victory over Irus go to your head? If you don’t look out, someone here will strike you until the blood pours from you, and then drive you from this palace.”
“You shameless thing!” said Odysseus angrily. “I shall tell Telemachus what you have just said, and he will cut you limb from limb!” At that the girls grew frightened and fled from the hall. Then Odysseus took his place at the braziers and fanned the flames as he brooded on revenge. Athene, meanwhile, spurred the suitors on to make fun of him. Eurymachus turned to his companions and said: “That man has surely been sent here to light up the hall with his wisdom. Just look at his head—not a single hair on it! Doesn’t it shine like a torch?” His words were greeted with bawdy laughter. Encouraged by applause, he turned to Odysseus. “How about hiring out to me as a servant, fellow?” he asked him. “You could plant trees in my orchard and weed out the thornbushes. In return you should have all you can eat. But I see that you prefer to beg and fill your belly with gifts that cost you no sweat.”
“Eurymachus,” said Odysseus in a steady voice, “I wish it were spring and that we could match ourselves in mowing the meadow, both with scythes in our hands and working on an empty stomach until dark. Then we would see who had the greater endurance! And if we stood at the ploughshare, you would see whether or not I could cut a furrow straight through a four-acre field! Or if we were off at war, I would show you that I can carry shield, helmet, and two brazen lances, and fight in the front line. Then it would not occur to you to taunt me with this belly of mine! Now you think you are great and powerful because you have measured your strength with a few, but certainly not with the best men. But should Odysseus once return to his home, I fear that these doors, wide as they are, would prove too narrow for your escape!”
At this Eurymachus grew very angry. “Scoundrel!” he shouted. “Now, this very instant, you shall be repaid for your drunken impudence!” And with that he seized a footstool, but Odysseus ducked at the knees of Amphinomus; the heavy missile hurtled over his head and struck a cupbearer in his right hand, so that the wine jug fell to the floor with a clatter, and the boy groaned and toppled over backwards.
The suitors cursed the stranger for the disturbance he had caused, but went on carousing nonetheless until Telemachus courteously but firmly asked them to retire for the night. At that Amphinomus rose and said: “You have heard what is certainly a fair request, my friends. Let us not quarrel with the young man. And in the future let us not offend this stranger or any servant in the palace with deeds or words. Fill your cups and pour a libation, and then let us go to our couches. Let this beggar stay here under the protection of Telemachus; for at his hearth he has taken shelter.” All was done as Amphinomus had said, and soon after the suitors left.
ODYSSEUS ALONE WITH TELEMACHUS AND PENELOPE
Only Odysseus and Telemachus remained. “Quick, let us put away the weapons!” the father said to his son.
Telemachus called Euryclea, his old nurse, and said: “Keep the girls inside until I have taken my father’s weapons away from all this smoke and soot.”
“It is a good thing, my child,” answered Euryclea, “that you are concerned for what is yours. But who shall carry the torch to light your way if you do not take one of the girls?”
“That stranger over there,” said Telemachus. “Whoever eats of my bread shall do me some service.” And now father and son carried helmets, shields, and lances to a storeroom. Before them went Athene, a golden lamp in her hand to spread light on their way.
“This is a great marvel,” Telemachus whispered to his father. “How the walls of the palace shimmer! Every beam, every pine post, every pillar—everything glows like fire! A god must be with us, one of the immortals from Olympus.”
“Silence, my son,” said Odysseus, “and do not probe into these things. The gods forbid mortals to pry into their doings. Go to bed now. I myself shall stay up a little longer and try your mother and the handmaids.”
Telemachus left, and now Penelope came into the hall, beautiful as Artemis or Aphrodite. Her own chair, inlaid with silver and ivory, and spread with a thick fleece, was placed at the hearth for her, and she seated herself on it. Servants cleared the food and cups from the tables, set these to one side, and then tended the fire and saw to the lighting of the room. And now Melantho mocked Odysseus a second time. “Stranger,” she said, “surely you are not going to spend the night here and spy about the palace? Let what you have had be enough for you, and get out of the door this instant unless you want a firebrand to fly at your head.”
Odysseus scowled at her and replied: “You are hard to understand. Are you so hostile toward me because I am in rags and beg for my food? Is not that the common fate of those who wander homeless over the earth? Once I was happy. I lived in a fine house, had ample stores, and gave wandering strangers whatever they needed, regardless of how they looked. And I had servants and handmaids in plenty too. But all this Zeus has taken from me. Remember, girl, that a like fate may overtake you! What if the queen became seriously angry with you, or if Odysseus returned? There is still hope of that! Or if Telemachus, who is no longer a child, punished you in his stead?”
Penelope heard the beggar’s words and scolded the arrogant girl. “Shameless creature,” she said. “I know your base soul, and I know what you are up to. But I shall make you sorry for what you have done. Did you not hear me say that I wish to honor this stranger, that I want to ask him about my husband, and do you yet dare jeer at him?” Melantho was abashed and crept from the hall. Eurynome, the old housekeeper, placed a chair for the beggar, and Penelope began to question him. “First tell me your name and who your parents are,” she said to Odysseus.
“Queen,” he replied, “you are a wise and virtuous woman, and the glory of your husband is great. Your people and your country are also well spoken of in the world. As for me, ask me whatever you like, but not my lineage or my native land. I have suffered too greatly and cannot bear to be reminded of my home. If I were to tell you everything I have been through, I should break into loud and long lament, and then your handmaids and even you yourself might reprove me—and with good reason.”
At this Penelope said: “I too have had much to endure since my husband left Ithaca. You saw the great numbers of men who are courting me against my will. For three years I evaded them through a ruse which I have had to give up.” And she told him about the web and how her own handmaids had betrayed her. “And now,” she concluded, “I can no longer put off taking a second husband. My parents are urging me, and my son is angry because his inheritance is being wasted. You see the trouble I am in, so you need not keep secret who you are. You were, after all, not born from a fabled oak or rock!”
“Since you insist, I shall tell you,” said Odysseus, and he began his old tale about Crete. It sounded so like the truth that Penelope wept with compassion, and Odysseus was filled with pity for her. But he restrained his tears, and his eyes stood fixed between his lids as though they were horn or iron, and revealed nothing of what he felt.
When the queen had wept her fill, she spoke again. “I must test you, stranger,” she said, “to see if what you say is really true, if you really entertained my husband as a guest in your house. Tell me what he was wearing, how he looked, and who was with him.”
“That is difficult to remember after so long a time,” said Odysseus. “It is almost twenty years ago that your husband landed in Crete. But I seem to recall that he wore a mantle of crimson wool fastened with a double clasp of gold embossed with a dog holding a writhing fawn in his forepaws. A tunic of fine white linen showed under the mantle. With him was a herald, a round-shouldered fellow, by the name of Eurybates, and he had curly hair and a dark skin.”
Penelope wept anew because in her mind’s eye she saw everything the beggar had mentioned. Odysseus comforted her with a fresh tale in which he blended imaginary adventures with the truth, such as his landing on Thrinacia and his stay in the land of the Phaeacians. The beggar pretended to know all about the king of the Thesprotians, who had been host to Odysseus just before he had gone to consult the oracle at Dodona. There he had left great treasure for safekeeping. The beggar claimed to have seen it with his own eyes, and thought there was no doubt whatsoever that the king of Ithaca would soon return to his country.
But all this could not convince Penelope. “I do not believe that will ever be,” she said, bowing her head. She was about to bid her handmaids wash the stranger’s feet and prepare a comfortable couch for him; but rather than accept the services of those faithless girls, Odysseus asked for a pallet of straw. “Unless,” he added, “you have some good and faithful old woman who has suffered as much as I. Let her wash my feet!”
“Come, Euryclea!” Penelope cried. “It was you who brought up Odysseus. Now wash the feet of this man who must be just about as old as your master.”
Euryclea looked at the beggar and said: “Ah! perhaps Odysseus has just such hands and feet! For when people suffer, they age before their time.” And as she spoke, the old woman was choked with tears. Now when she approached to wash the stranger’s feet, she looked at him more closely, and said: “Many men have visited this house, but never have I seen one who resembled Odysseus as you do! You have his stature, his legs, and his voice.”
“Yes, that is what everyone who has seen both of us says,” Odysseus replied carelessly, while she mixed hot and cold water in a basin. But when she had completed her preparations, he moved out of the light, for he did not want her to see the scar above his right knee, where a boar had thrust his tusk into the flesh long ago, when he had hunted as a youth. He feared that the moment Euryclea noticed it, she would recognize him. But though his legs were in shadow, she knew the scar when her palm touched it, and in the first shock of joy let his foot slip from her hand and into the basin, so that the metal rang and the water splashed over the rim. Her breath faltered and her eyes filled with tears. Tremblingly she touched his knee. “Odysseus, dear child, it is you!” she cried. “I have felt the scar!” But out shot Odysseus’ right hand and caught her by the throat, and with his left he drew her toward him. “Do you want to destroy me?” he whispered. “What you say is true, but no one in the palace must know. If you do not keep silence, you shall share the fate of those worthless girls!”
“No need to threaten me!” said Euryclea softly, when he had released her throat. “My heart is firm as rock and iron. But beware of the other handmaids in this palace. I shall tell you the names of all who have no respect for you.”
“You do not have to,” said Odysseus. “I already know who they are.” When Euryclea had washed and anointed his feet, Penelope began to speak. She had not noticed what had passed between them, for Athene had turned her thoughts elsewhere.
“My heart sways to and fro in doubt, stranger,” she said pensively. “Shall I remain with my son and administer the palace for my husband who may still be alive, or shall I marry the noblest among my suitors, him who offers the most splendid bridal gifts? While Telemachus was still a child, I refused to marry. Now that he is a youth, he himself wishes me to go from here, for he fears that his possessions will be utterly wasted. And I have had a dream. Perhaps you, who seem so wise, can explain it to me. I have twenty geese, and I like to watch them eat their grain. Well, I dreamed that an eagle came flying down from the mountains and broke the necks of all my geese. They lay dead, scattered about on the ground, and the bird flew off through the air. I began to sob aloud, but the dream went on. I thought I saw women coming from the city to comfort me in my grief. And suddenly the eagle came too, perched on the sill, and began to speak to me in a human voice. ‘Be of good courage, daughter of Icarius,’ he said. ‘This is no dream; it is a vision. The suitors are the geese, and I, the eagle, am Odysseus, returned to put an end to them.’ That is what the bird said, and then I awoke. I immediately went to look after my geese, and they were feeding quietly at the trough.”
“Queen,” the beggar replied, “in your dream Odysseus himself has told you what will come to pass. The vision can have no other meaning. He will come, and not a suitor will remain alive.”
But Penelope sighed and said: “Dreams are like ripples on the waters, but tomorrow is the dreaded day on which I am to leave my husband’s house. I shall arrange a contest for the men who court me. Odysseus sometimes used to set up twelve axes, one behind the other. Then he would step back and shoot an arrow through the holes of all twelve of them. Now what I have decided is this: I shall marry that suitor who can accomplish this feat with Odysseus’ bow.”
“That is right,” said Odysseus in a firm voice. “Do not fail to arrange the contest tomorrow. For Odysseus will come before the suitors can bend the bow and shoot the arrow through the holes of the axes.”
NIGHT AND MORNING IN THE PALACE
The queen bade the stranger goodnight, and Odysseus lay down on the couch Euryclea had prepared for him. She had spread thick fleeces over an untanned hide, and provided a warm mantle for covering. For a long time he tossed about sleepless. He heard the shameless girls carrying on with the suitors and mocking him with impudent words. He beat his hand against his breast and said to himself: “Bear this too, heart of mine, and remember that you have suffered worse things! Have you forgotten the time you were in the cave of the Cyclops and were compelled to sit by inactive while he devoured your friends? Wait then, and endure!” In this way he curbed his heart, but still he could not sleep, for he cast about for some way of taking sure revenge on the suitors. He was troubled to think how many of them there were, and he doubted whether he could prevail against them. As he was turning such thoughts over in his mind, Athene came to him in the shape of a beautiful woman, bent over his couch, and said: “You have small faith in me! A man often depends on a friend, a mere mortal, but you have me, a goddess, to shield you from harm. If fifty armies, all eager to kill, were to encircle us, you would still find a way to conquer. And now sleep, and forget your griefs.” So she spoke and touched his lids with sweet slumber.
But Penelope, for her part, woke after a brief sleep, and sitting up on her couch, began to weep. In a voice choked with tears she prayed to Artemis. “Sacred daughter of Zeus,” she pleaded, “if only you would aim an arrow at my breast! If only a tempest would snatch me away and fling me down on the farthest shores of Oceanus, before I am forced to break faith with my husband and marry a man who is base compared with him! Sorrow can be borne, though the day be spent in weeping, if only night bring sleep and forgetting. But even in my sleep a god torments me with evil dreams. Just as I awoke I seemed to see my husband at my side, tall and majestic as he was when he left for Troy, and my heart beat high with happiness, for I believed he was really here.” Penelope sobbed these words aloud, and Odysseus, hearing her weep, feared that she might recognize him before the time was ripe. So he quickly left the palace and under the open sky implored Zeus to send him a favorable omen. Straightway a sudden clap of thunder sounded above the palace. In the mill near the house was a woman who had been grinding barley all night. She stopped working, looked out, and cried aloud: “How Zeus is thundering, and yet there is not a cloud to be seen far and wide! He must be giving a sign to some mortal. O father of gods and men, grant my request too, and kill those accursed suitors who force me to grind day and night so that they may have enough flour for their feasting!” Odysseus rejoiced in the good omen, and he lay down and fell asleep.
At dawn the palace was astir. Servants came and made up the fire. Telemachus, when he had risen, dressed and went up to the threshold of the women’s chamber and called to Euryclea: “Did you give our guest food and drink, or has no one seen to his wants? My mother seems to have lost her sense of right and wrong. She accords honor to her good-for-nothing suitors and refuses it to a man far better than they.”
“You do my mistress wrong,” Euryclea replied. “The stranger drank as much wine as he pleased, and he ate all he wanted as well. He was even offered a sumptuous couch, but he spurned it, and it was only with difficulty that we prevailed on him to accept a humbler one.”
When Telemachus had been thus reassured, he hastened to the assembly in the market place. Euryclea, meanwhile, ordered the handmaids to prepare for the feast of Apollo. Some spread the chairs with crimson stuffs; some cleaned the tables with sponges, while others washed the pitchers and cups; twenty were needed to fetch water from the well. The servants of the suitors also took part in these preparations and split wood in the forecourt. The swineherd came with his fattest boars and greeted his former guest with joy and affection. Melantheus and two of his helpers brought the choicest she-goats, which they tied to posts in the portico. In passing, he addressed Odysseus in scornful tones. “Are you still here, old beggar?” he asked. “Are you still glued to the threshold? We certainly shall not part until you have felt my fists. Are there no other feasts you could go to?” Odysseus did not answer. He only shook his head.
And now an honest man entered the palace, Philoetius, who from the mainland had brought the suitors a bullock and fatted goats. When he saw Eumaeus, he said: “Who is the stranger who came here a short time ago? He looked very much like Odysseus, our king. It can well happen, you know, that suffering makes beggars of kings.” Then he went up to Odysseus and greeted him, saying: “Though you seem wretched enough now, I hope the future may bring you ease and happiness. When I first saw you, I broke into a sweat and tears came to my eyes, because you made me think of Odysseus, who, if he is still alive, may also be wandering around somewhere in the world, dressed in tatters. When I was quite young, he made me the herdsman over his cattle, and they are thriving, but I am forced to supply them for the feasts of others. I should have left the country long ago in anger and grief if I did not still hope to see Odysseus come back and put an end to the scoundrels we are forced to entertain here.”
“Herdsman,” said Odysseus, “you seem neither base nor foolish. And I swear to you by Zeus that while you are still in the palace Odysseus will come home, and your eyes will see him take vengeance on the suitors.”
“May Zeus make your words come true!” said Philoetius. “And when the time comes, I shall not stand by and twiddle my thumbs!”
The suitors, who had been plotting the murder of Telemachus, began to arrive in the palace. They laid their mantles aside. Meat was roasting on the spits, and the servants were mixing the wine. Eumaeus passed around the cups, and Philoetius served bread in baskets. Melantheus poured, and the feasting began.
Telemachus purposely assigned to Odysseus a place near the threshold and set before him a mean stool and a little table. He had him served with meat, filled his cup with wine, and said: “Eat here in peace, and I do not advise anyone to molest you!” Even Antinous warned his companions not to trouble the stranger, for it was evident to him that he was under the protection of Zeus. But Athene secretly goaded the suitors to words of contempt. Among them was a malicious man named Ctesippus from the island of Same. “Listen to me, you suitors,” he said with a mocking smile. “It is true that the stranger has already got his share, and it would, indeed, have been unpardonable for Telemachus to have neglected so noble a guest, but I want to give him a special gift. He can use it to pay the old nurse who scraped the filth from his body!” And with that he drew from a basket the hoof of an ox, and flung it at the beggar with all his might. But Odysseus dodged it and hid his anger behind an ominous grin. The missile struck the wall.
And now Telemachus rose and cried: “Consider yourself fortunate not to have hit the stranger, Ctesippus! Had you done so, I should have thrust my lance through your chest, and your father would have had to prepare for your burial instead of your wedding. Let no one else permit himself such actions in my house. Rather kill me than insult a guest!”
The suitors were silenced by these grim words, and Agelaus, son of Damastor, rose and said: “Telemachus is right! But now he and his mother must listen to reason. As long as there was the slightest hope that Odysseus would return to his country it was all very well to hold off us suitors. But now there is no doubt that he will never come back. So talk to your mother, Telemachus. Urge her to choose the noblest among us, him who brings the best gifts, and then you will be able to enjoy your inheritance in peace.”
Telemachus rose from his chair and said: “By Zeus! I too do not wish to postpone this matter any longer. On the contrary, I have been begging my mother to choose among her suitors. The only thing I refuse to do is to force her to go from my palace.”
These words were greeted with loud bursts of laughter, for Pallas Athene was turning their wits awry. They grinned and grimaced, and stuffed their mouths with uncooked meat until the blood dripped from their lips. But then suddenly their eyes filled with tears, and instead of bawdy merriment they felt only dejection. Theoclymenus, the seer, noticed the change which had come over them. “What is wrong with you?” he cried in surprise. “Your heads are shrouded in night, your eyes are wet, and lament pours from your lips. And what do I see? The walls are oozing blood, the hall and the forecourt swarm with ghosts from the underworld, and the sun is blotted out in the sky!” So he spoke, but the suitors all laughed at him.
Then Eurymachus said to them: “This foreign soothsayer who has been with us for only a short time is nothing but a fool! If he sees only darkness in this hall, take him out and let him stay in the street or the market place.”
“I do not need your servants to guide me from here,” said Theoclymenus indignantly. “My eyes and ears and feet are sound, and my reason is unimpaired. I shall leave of my own accord, for I foresee the destruction which will overtake you and which not one of you will escape.” So he said and swiftly left the palace to go to Peiraeus, his former host, who was glad to welcome him back.
The suitors, meanwhile, went on taunting Telemachus. “No one in the world has ever lodged worse guests than you,” said one of them. “A dirty beggar and a fool who makes predictions! What you should do is travel through Sicily with them and exhibit them in the market place for money.” Telemachus said nothing in reply. He glanced at his father, for he was only waiting for the sign to begin.
THE CONTEST WITH THE BOW
And now Penelope too realized that the time had come. She took in her hand a brazen key with an ivory handle and, accompanied by her handmaids, went to a storeroom where many precious utensils of bronze, gold, and iron, the property of Odysseus, were kept. Among these were his bow and a quiverful of arrows, gifts he had once received from a host in Lacedaemon. When Penelope had unlocked the door, she slid back the bolts, and their creak was loud as the bellow of a bull in the pasture. The door flew open and Penelope entered. The bow and quiver were hanging on the wall. She stood on her toes, reached up for them, and took them down. But when she held them in her hands, grief overwhelmed her. She threw herself in a chair and gave way to tears. At last she rose and left the room. The servants followed carrying the bow and quiver. She went straight to the suitors, called for silence, and said: “You who have been wooing me so long a time, listen to what I have to say. Let him who wishes to win me hold himself in readiness, for now we shall have a contest. Here is the great bow of my noble husband. Whoever can bend it and shoot an arrow through the holes of twelve axes, set up one behind the other, shall take me to wife, and with him I shall leave this palace, the house of my first husband.”
When she had spoken, she bade the swineherd lay the bow and the arrows before the suitors. As Eumaeus took the weapon, his eyes were wet, and Philoetius, the cowherd, wept too. This angered Antinous. “Stupid peasants!” he grumbled. “Why do you make the queen’s heart heavy with your tears? Eat all you want in silence, or lament outside. We suitors have to go about this trying contest, for I do not think it will be easy to bend that bow. Not one among us is as strong as Odysseus. I remember him perfectly, though I was only a little boy when he left.” So said Antinous, but in his heart he already saw himself bending the bow and shooting the arrow through the holes of the axes. But to him Fate had allotted the first shaft to be launched by the hand of Odysseus.
And now Telemachus rose and said: “Zeus must have addled my brain! Here is my mother declaring her willingness to leave this house to follow a suitor, yet I am standing by with a smile. Well then, you suitors, you are about to wage a contest for a woman who has not her equal in all of Greece. But you know that yourselves, and I need not din my mother’s praises in your ears. Begin then, and bend the bow! I wish I could take my turn with you, for if I won, my mother would not go from here.” When he had finished speaking he unslung his sword and cast off his crimson mantle. Then he drew a straight furrow along the floor of the hall and fixed the axes in the ground, one after the other, and stamped the earth hard around them. Everyone admired his strength and the sureness and accuracy of his movements. Then he himself gripped the bow. Three times he strained to bend it, but three times he failed. When he tried a fourth time, he was about to succeed when his father motioned to him and stopped him. “Gods of Olympus!” Telemachus cried. “Either I am a weakling or too young, and not yet able to fend off an attacker. You are stronger than I, so you try it!” And so saying, he leaned the bow and quiver against the doorpost and seated himself in his chair.
With an air of great triumph, Antinous rose and said: “Come, my friends, let us take turns from left to right, the way the cupbearer goes.” Then Leiodes rose. He was the one who poured the libations and always sat in the innermost part of the hall, by the big mixing-bowl. Of all the suitors he was the only one who was dismayed by their wanton deeds, and he hated the noisy mob of feasters. Quietly he went to the threshold and attempted to bend the bow, but he could not.
“Let another try,” he said, letting his delicate hands drop to his sides. “I am not the right man for this, and perhaps no one here will succeed.” With these words he leaned the bow and the quiver against the post.
But Antinous reproved him, saying: “That was an unpleasant speech, Leiodes. Just because you could not bend the bow, is that sufficient reason to claim that no one else can? Come, Melantheus,” he continued, turning to the goatherd. “Light a fire, put a chair in front of it, and bring us a thick slice of fat from the kitchen. We shall warm this dried-out bow and grease it, and then it will be easier to handle.” All was done as he had bidden, but the bow was just as inflexible as before. In vain one suitor after another tried to bend it. Finally only two were left—Antinous and Eurymachus.
ODYSSEUS REVEALS HIMSELF TO THE GOOD HERDSMEN
Now it happened that, in leaving the palace, the cowherd and the swineherd met, and close on their heels came Odysseus. He caught up with them just as they closed the door to the forecourt behind them, and said to them in a low voice: “I should like to tell you something, my friends, but only if I can rely on you; otherwise I had better keep silence. So first let me ask you something. If a god suddenly brought Odysseus home from alien lands, whom would you side with, him or the suitors? Tell me quite frankly!”
“O Zeus on Olympus!” exclaimed the cowherd. “If my dearest wish were granted, if Odysseus really returned—you should see me fight for him!” And Eumaeus too called on all the gods to send his master home.
When Odysseus had thus made sure of their faithfulness, he said: “Well then, this is what I have to tell you: I myself am Odysseus! After twenty years, after unbearable hardships, I have returned to my native land and find only you two of all my servants ready to welcome me, for I have not heard anyone else implore the gods to send me home. As soon as I have destroyed the suitors, you shall have your reward for this! I shall give each of you a wife, and fields, and a house built close to my own. And Telemachus shall treat you like brothers. But to convince you that I am telling the truth, I shall show you the scar from the wound a boar once dealt me while I was out hunting.” With that he pushed aside his rags and bared the long scar. And the two herdsmen began to weep, clasped their arms about their king, and kissed his head and shoulders. Odysseus kissed them too, and then said: “Do not give way to past grief or present joy, for no one in the palace must know I am here. Let us return to the hall singly. The suitors will not want to give me a turn at bending the bow, but you, Eumaeus, shall take it up boldly and hand it to me. When you have done this, order the handmaids to lock themselves into the women’s chamber. No matter what they hear from the hall, shouts or groans, let none of them dare rush out, but let them stay at their work. You, dear Philoetius, shall see to the outer gate. Bolt it well and secure it with a rope.”
When Odysseus had given these directions, he returned to the hall, and the herdsmen followed him in. Eurymachus was turning the bow this way and that over the fire, but he could not bend it. He sighed and said: “This really grieves me! Not so much because of Penelope, for there are plenty of other Achaean women in Ithaca and elsewhere. But it is annoying that we should appear so weak compared with Odysseus. Our very grandsons will taunt us with our failure!”
Antinous, however, reproved his friend for these words. “Do not talk like that, Eurymachus,” he said. “Today is the feast of Apollo, and a holiday is really not the proper time to wage a contest. Let us put aside the bow and go back to our cups. The axes can stay where they are. Tomorrow we shall make an offering to the archer Apollo and try again.”
But now Odysseus turned to the suitors and said: “You do well to rest today. Tomorrow Apollo, the Far-Darter, will, let us hope, grant victory. In the meantime let me try the bow and see if there is anything of my old strength left in this miserable body.”
“Stranger,” shouted Antinous, “have you lost your mind? Or are you drunk with wine? Do you want to start a fight, like Eurytion, the centaur, at the wedding of Pirithous? Remember that he was the first to fall, and so you too shall be killed the instant you take the bow in hand, and no one among us will defend you!”
Here Penelope intervened. “Antinous,” she said in her gentle voice, “how unbecoming it would be to exclude the stranger from the contest! Do you really think that this beggar could bend the bow and claim me as his wife? Surely he himself is thinking of no such thing. It would be quite impossible, so you need not be in the least disturbed.”
“What we are afraid of, O queen,” answered Eurymachus, “is the gossip that will spread through all of Greece. They will say that only inferior men, not one of whom was able to bend the bow of immortal Odysseus, courted his wife, but that in the end a beggar from heaven knows where bent the bow effortlessly and shot the arrow through the twelve axes.”
“The stranger is not as base a man as you seem to think,” said Penelope. “Look well at him, and you will see how tall he is and how solidly built. Besides, he claims he is the son of a noble man. Give him the bow! Should he bend it, his only reward shall be a tunic and mantle, sandals, a spear, and a sword. When I have given him these, he shall go wherever he likes.”
Telemachus interposed at this point and said: “Mother, no one but I has the right to give or withhold this bow. Even if I chose to give it to this stranger to take with him on his wanderings, no one could prevent me. As for you—go to your chamber, to your spindle and loom, for the bow is the business of men.” Penelope heard her son’s firm words with amazement, but did as he said.
And now the swineherd took the bow in his hands, even though the suitors broke into angry cries. “What are you doing with that bow, you fool?” they roared. “Are you itching to be thrown to your own dogs near the sties?” Eumaeus laid the weapon down in alarm, but Telemachus called in a threatening voice: “Bring it, old man! I am the only one who gives orders here. If you do not obey me, I shall drive you out with stones, even though I am much the younger.” The suitors’ fury changed to amusement, and they laughed as the swineherd brought the beggar the bow. Then Eumaeus secretly bade Euryclea lock in the girls, and Philoetius hastened out of the palace and carefully made fast the gate of the forecourt.
Odysseus, meanwhile, examined the bow from all sides. He looked to see whether, in all the years he had been gone, worms had got into the horn, or if anything else had happened to it. The suitors nudged one another, and someone said: “The man seems to know something about bows. Perhaps he has one like this at home, or else he wants to copy this one for himself. Just look at him fingering it!”
When Odysseus had examined the huge bow from every angle, he bent it, and strung it as easily as a singer strings his lyre. He plucked the string with his right hand to see if it was taut, and it twanged with a high clear sound, like the tone of a swallow. When they heard it, the suitors winced and grew pale. But Zeus sent thunder down from heaven as a happy omen. Then Odysseus took an arrow which had fallen from the quiver and lay on the table before him, gripped the bow, drew back the string, fitted the arrow and loosed it, aiming with a sure eye. And the shaft flew through every hole of the twelve axes, from the first to the last! Then the hero said: “Well, Telemachus, the stranger you took into your palace has not disgraced you. My strength, it seems, is unbroken in spite of the taunts of the suitors. But now the time has come to serve these Achaeans their evening meal. Let us see to it before it grows dark, and later we can have lyre playing and singing and whatever else befits a feast.” And as he spoke, Odysseus gave his son the sign they had agreed on. Quickly Telemachus slung his sword over his shoulder, took his spear, and hurried over to his father, armed with gleaming bronze.
Then Odysseus stripped off his tatters and sprang to the raised threshold, holding the bow and the quiver full of arrows. There he poured them out at his feet and called down to the suitors: “The first contest is over. Now for the second! But this time it is I who will choose a mark such as no archer has ever hit, and yet I do not think I shall miss!” And as he spoke he aimed at Antinous, who was just lifting his two-handled cup of gold to his lips. The arrow pierced his throat, and the point came out at the nape of his neck. The cup dropped from his hand as a thick jet of blood spurted from his nostrils, and he fell, dragging down with his foot the table and everything on it. When the suitors saw him fall, they leaped from their chairs and ran to the walls to seize weapons, but there was neither spear nor shield to be seen. Then they broke into a storm of abuse. “Why do you shoot at men, accursed stranger?” they shouted. “You have killed our companion, but it is the last arrow you will ever launch! The vultures shall tear your flesh!” They said this thinking that he had shot Antinous by accident, not dreaming that the same fate was in store for them all. But Odysseus thundered down at them: “Dogs! You thought I would never return from Troy, and so you wasted my stores, seduced my servants, courted my wife without having any certainty that I had really died, and feared neither men nor gods! But now your hour is come!”
The suitors heard and grew pale. Fear gripped their hearts. Each looked about, silently wondering how he could escape from the hall. Eurymachus was the only one to gather his wits. He said: “If you are really Odysseus of Ithaca, you have every right to be angry with us, for both in the palace and on your farms much wrong has been done. But he who was most to blame is already dead. It was Antinous who was behind all these doings, and he was not even courting Penelope in earnest. All he wanted was to be king of Ithaca in your stead, and to this end he plotted the murder of your son. Now that he has received his just punishment, give up your anger against us! Spare your equals in rank! Every one of us shall bring you twenty bullocks in recompense for what we have eaten, and you shall have all the bronze and gold it will take to win back your favor.”
“No, Eurymachus,” said Odysseus, scowling at him. “Even if you offered me everything you have inherited from your fathers, I should not rest until all of you have atoned for your misdeeds with death. Do what you will, fight or flee—not one of you shall escape me!”
And now the suitors shook with uncontrollable terror. Once more Eurymachus spoke, but this time to his companions. “No one can stop this man,” he said. “Draw your swords and use the tables as shields against his arrows. Try to throw yourselves at him and thrust him from the threshold. Then let us go throughout the city to call on our friends for aid.” So saying, he whipped his sword from its sheath and leaped forward with a shout. But at the same instant an arrow pierced his liver. The sword slipped from his grasp, and cups and platters rolled down with him as he fell over a table and struck his head on the floor. He beat his head on the ground in agony, but a second later a tremor ran through him and he died. And now Amphinomus rushed against Odysseus to try to force a way out for himself with his sword. But Telemachus hurled his spear at him. It struck him in the back, between the shoulder blades, and he plunged forward on his face. Then Telemachus sprang free of the throng and stood on the threshold beside his father, to whom he brought a shield, two lances, and a helmet of bronze. Quickly he slipped out of the door to fetch more weapons. Four shields, eight spears, and four helmets with crests of horsehair he brought for himself and his friends. He and the two faithful herdsmen armed themselves; the fourth set of weapons he brought to Odysseus, and now the four stood shoulder to shoulder.
While the arrows lasted, Odysseus shot suitor after suitor, and one victim tumbled on top of another. Then he leaned his bow against the doorpost, slung the shield over his shoulder, set the helmet on his head, and took two great lances in hand. In the hall was a side door which opened into a passage leading to the back of the palace. But this door was so narrow that only one man at a time could pass through. Odysseus had told Eumaeus to watch there, but when the swineherd went to arm himself it was momentarily unguarded. One of the suitors, Agelaus, at once seized the advantage. “Why not flee through the side door,” he asked those near him, “and hasten to the city? There we can get help and soon put an end to this man!”
“Impossible!” said Melantheus, the goatherd, who sided with the suitors. “The door and the passage are so narrow that they admit only one man at a time. It will be better if I alone slip out quietly and fetch weapons for the rest of you.” And he immediately began to carry out his own suggestion. Time after time he went out and in, unobserved in the crowd, and brought back with him twelve shields and as many spears and helmets. Odysseus suddenly found himself confronted with armed foes, brandishing their lances. He was startled and said to Telemachus: “One of the faithless handmaids or the disloyal goatherd is responsible for this!”
“I am afraid it is my own fault,” answered Telemachus. “When I brought the weapons for us, I was in such a hurry that I did not fasten the door of our storeroom.”
Quickly Eumaeus hastened to repair his young master’s neglect. Through the open door he saw the goatherd taking more spears and shields. He came back to tell Odysseus. “Shall I take him alive or slay him?” he asked.
“Take the cowherd with you,” said Odysseus. “Fall on that scoundrel, bind his hands and feet behind his back, and let him hang from the central pillar by a stout rope. Then fasten the door and return.”
The two herdsmen did as he had bidden. They hurled themselves on the goatherd just as he was snatching more arms. They threw him to the floor, bound his arms and legs behind his back, looped a long rope about a hook in the ceiling, slung it around his body, and hoisted him up the tall pillar until he hung close to the rafters. “We have couched you in a comfortable position,” said Eumaeus. “Sleep sweetly!” They locked the door and returned to their posts near Odysseus.
A fifth ally unexpectedly joined the four friends. It was Athene in the shape of Mentor, and Odysseus joyfully recognized the goddess. When the suitors noticed the newcomer, Agelaus called to him angrily: “Mentor, I warn you not to let Odysseus persuade you to fight us suitors, for if you do, we shall kill you and all yours along with this father and son!”
These words made Athene seethe with rage. She spurred Odysseus to greater effort, saying: “You do not seem to me as brave as in those nine years you fought at Troy. It was your counsel that caused the fall of that city, but now, when it is a question of defending your own palace and property, you are hesitant and slow.” This she said to goad his courage, for she did not intend to take part in the actual fighting. Hardly had she finished speaking when she flew up in the form of a swallow and perched on the sooty rafters.
“Mentor has left!” Agelaus called to his friends. “The four are by themselves again. Now let us plan our attack. Do not all cast your spears at once. The six of you over there shall be first, and be sure that all of you aim only at Odysseus. Once he is down the rest will be easy to manage.” But Athene turned the course of those six lances: one stuck in the doorpost, another in the door, and the rest hit the wall.
Then Odysseus cried to his friends: “Aim carefully and cast well!” All four hurled their spears, and not one missed. Odysseus struck Demoptolemus, Telemachus Euryades, the swineherd hit Elatus, and the cowherd Pisander. When they saw their companions rolling in the dust, the other suitors fled to the farthest corners of the hall, but an instant later they advanced again, drew the spears from the corpses, and cast once more. Again the missiles went astray, all except the spear of Amphimedon, which grazed one of Telemachus’ wrists, and that of Ctesippus, which scratched the swineherd’s shoulder just above the shield. But neither of the wounded men was in the least disabled, and they repaid their would-be slayers with death. When Eumaeus cast his spear, he cried: “Take this for the hoof you threw at my master when he was a beggar in this hall!”
Odysseus had killed Eurydamas. Now he hurled his lance and killed Agelaus, son of Damastor, while Telemachus drove his spear through the belly of Leiocritus. Then Athene shook her aegis and filled the suitors with such panic that they fled through the hall like cattle stung by a gadfly, or like small birds trying to escape the talons of a hawk. Odysseus and his friends left the threshold and raged through the hall. And wherever they strode sounded the death rattle, and blood flowed in torrents.
Leiodes, throwing himself at Odysseus’ feet, clasped his knees and cried: “Have mercy on me! I never wronged you or yours! I tried to check the rest of the suitors, but they would not listen to me. All I did was to pour the libations. Must I die for that?”
“If you poured libations in their behalf,” Odysseus answered with a frown, “you prayed for them!” And he picked up the sword Agelaus had dropped as he fell and struck off Leiodes’ head while his lips were still pleading.
Near the side door stood Phemius, the singer, his lyre in his hands. He was badly frightened and wondered whether he should try to slip through the door and save himself by flight, or clasp the knees of Odysseus. He decided for the latter, laid his lyre down between the mixing bowl and a silver-studded chair, and threw himself on the ground before Odysseus. “Have pity on me!” he cried, clasping his knees. “You yourself would feel regret if you killed a singer whose song delights gods and men. A god taught me my art, and like a god I shall celebrate you in song. Your son shall be my witness that I did not come here of my own free will, but that they forced me to sing for them.”
Odysseus raised his sword, but he hesitated. And then Telemachus ran toward him and cried: “Stop, father! Do not hurt him! He is guiltless! And if the herald Medon has not already been killed by you or the herdsmen, let him live too. He took such good care of me when I was a little boy, and always wished us well!” Medon, who had wrapped himself in an oxhide and lay hidden under a chair, when he heard this plea in his behalf unwound himself and clasped the knees of Telemachus. At that, even Odysseus had to smile. “You have nothing to fear, you two,” he said to the singer and the herald. “Telemachus has saved you. Leave the hall and tell the people outside that it pays to be loyal rather than faithless.” Phemius and Medon hurried away and sat down in the forecourt by the altar of Zeus, still trembling with terror.
THE SERVANTS ARE PUNISHED
Odysseus looked about him. Not one of his enemies was alive to confront him. They lay on the ground like fish which the fisherman has shaken from the net, and the bright sun takes their life. Then Odysseus sent Telemachus to fetch the old nurse. She found her master standing among the dead bodies like a lion who has torn oxen limb from limb, whose fierce eyes sparkle while the blood drips from his jaws over his breast. He was terrible and great to see, and Euryclea was ready to break into cries of joy. But Odysseus checked her. “Be glad,” he said gravely, “but do not rejoice aloud. It is not right for mortals to rejoice over the slain. It is not I alone who have killed these men; they have fallen because the gods willed it. But now give me the names of those women in the palace who have kept faith with me, and of those who have been false.”
“In the palace,” Euryclea replied, “are fifty servants whom we have taught to weave cloth, card wool, and to see to the house. Twelve of these were disloyal to you and refused to obey either Penelope or me. They were never called on to obey young Telemachus, for his mother did not give him authority over the handmaids. But now let me wake my sleeping mistress and tell her the joyful news!”
“Do not wake her just yet,” said Odysseus, “but send down to me those twelve faithless women.” Euryclea obeyed and brought the twelve before him. They were trembling from head to foot. Then Odysseus called Telemachus and the faithful herdsmen and said: “Carry out the corpses and let these women help you. After that they shall wipe the tables and chairs with sponges and clean the entire hall. When they have done this, take them out to the narrow space between the kitchen and the wall of the court and kill them with the sword to punish them for their arrogance and for doing the will of the suitors.” Screaming and weeping the women clung together, but Odysseus drove them to work and kept them at it until tables and chairs were clean, and the blood and filth scraped from the floor with hoes and thrown out of the door. Then the herdsmen crowded them into the space between kitchen and wall where there was no way to escape. And now Telemachus said: “These wretched women, who disgraced my mother and myself, shall not die an honorable death.” With these words he knotted a rope from post to post, the whole length of the kitchen, and soon the twelve hung side by side, strangled in the noose like thrushes in the net. They writhed a little while with their feet, but not for long.
Next Melantheus, the goatherd, was dragged into the forecourt and hacked to pieces. When Telemachus and the herdsmen had done this, the work of vengeance was complete, and they washed their hands and feet and returned to Odysseus.
He commanded Euryclea to bring him fire and sulphur to smoke out the stench of death and cleanse the hall. But before she did this, she brought her master a tunic and mantle. “My child,” she said, “you must not stand in this hall in your beggar’s rags. It does not befit you.” But Odysseus let lie the clothing she had fetched and told her to go about her work. When he had purified the hall, the house and the forecourt, Euryclea called the faithful servants. They clustered about their king with tears of joy and kissed his head and his hands. And Odysseus wept too, for now he saw how many had remained loyal to him.
ODYSSEUS AND PENELOPE
Euryclea hastened to Penelope’s chamber, her knees almost failing her. Tremblingly but happily she woke her sleeping mistress and said: “Penelope, now with your own eyes you shall see what you have been waiting for these many years! Odysseus has come! And he has killed the suitors who have harassed you and your son and who have laid waste your stores.”
Penelope shook the sleep from her eyes and said: “Euryclea, the gods must have stricken you with madness. Why do you wake me with false news from the sweetest slumber I have ever had? I have not slept so well since Odysseus left for Troy. Had anyone but you come to tell me such a story, I should have sent her off with worse than angry words. And even you I spare only because of your great age. But now leave me, and go down to the hall again.”
“There is no need for you to be angry,” said Euryclea. “The stranger, the beggar whom they all scoffed at—it is he who is your husband! Your son Telemachus has known it for a long time, but he was told to keep it secret until vengeance had been taken on the suitors.”
Then Penelope started up from her couch and clung to the old woman tearfully. “If this is really the truth,” she cried, “if Odysseus is really here in the palace, how could he alone cope with that mob of hostile men?”
“I myself neither heard nor saw,” Euryclea replied. “We women were herded into our quarters and locked in. But we caught the sound of groans, and when Telemachus finally called me, I saw your husband standing upright over a mass of corpses, a sight which, I think, would have gladdened your heart. But now all the bodies have been dragged out and are lying beyond the gates of the court, and the house has been purified with sulphur. You may go down without fear.”
“I cannot believe it,” Penelope repeated. “It must have been a god who slew the suitors. As for Odysseus—no, he is far from here, and he will never return.”
“You have a doubting heart,” said Euryclea, shaking her head. “Well then, I shall tell you of a sure sign. Do you recall that time you told me to wash the beggar’s feet? It was then I touched the scar you know of, and I wanted to cry out to you, but he caught me by the throat and would not let me speak.”
“Let us go down,” said Penelope, tremulous with hope and fear. And together they descended and crossed the threshold of the hall. Penelope uttered no word. Silently she seated herself opposite Odysseus, in the full light of the hearthfire. He sat near a tall pillar and fixed his eyes on the ground, waiting for her to speak. But wonder and doubt closed her lips. One moment she thought she recognized him, the next he seemed a stranger, and all she saw was a beggar clothed in rags. At last Telemachus went up to his mother and said almost angrily, yet with a smile: “How can you sit there so coldly, mother? Go to my father, question him! What other woman whose husband returned after twenty years of hardship would act as you do? Have you a stone in your breast instead of a heart?”
“Dear son,” said Penelope, “I am lost in wonder. I cannot speak, I cannot question him, I cannot even look into his eyes. And yet if it is really Odysseus come back to his house, we shall recognize each other beyond all doubt, for we have secret signs which no one else knows of.”
Then Odysseus smiled gently and turned to his son: “Let your mother try me in her own fashion,” he said. “She now scorns me because she sees me in these ugly rags, but I believe she can be convinced! But first we must think of other matters. If a man kills another man of his people, he flees from his house and country, even if his victim has only one or two avengers. But we have slain the noblest young men of Ithaca and of the islands nearby—what shall we do?”
“Father,” said Telemachus, “you must decide this alone, for all the world regards you as wisest in counsel.”
“Then I shall tell you what I consider best,” said Odysseus. “You and the herdsmen and everyone in the house shall bathe and put on your finest garments. The handmaids too shall adorn themselves. Then let Phemius pluck the lyre and play a tune for the dance. Whoever passes our house will think that feasting is still going on, and news of the suitors’ death will not spread through the city until we have reached our farms in the country. Then a god will tell us what to do next.”
Soon after the palace rang with music, singing, and merriment. The citizens gathered in the street and said to one another: “Penelope must have made her choice, and the wedding celebration is taking place. Fickle woman! Why did she not wait a little longer? Perhaps her husband Odysseus would have returned.” Toward evening the crowd dispersed. In the meantime Odysseus had bathed and anointed himself, and now again Athene shed beauty about him, and he rose from his bath like an immortal. When he had returned to the hall, he seated himself opposite his wife. “Strange woman!” he said. “The gods must have given you an unfeeling heart. No other wife would so obstinately refuse to recognize her husband who came back to her after twenty years of suffering. I must turn to you, Euryclea, to prepare a couch for me, for this woman has a heart of iron.”
“It is neither pride nor scorn that keep me from you,” said Penelope. “I know quite well how Odysseus looked when he left Ithaca on a swift ship. Very well, Euryclea, carry the couch from the bedchamber and heap it well with fleeces, cloaks, and coverlets.”
But this Penelope only said to try her husband. He, however, frowned and said: “Woman, these are bitter words that you have spoken. Who has set my bed elsewhere? No one in the world could move it, not if he were in the full strength of youth. I myself built it, and there is a secret connected with it. In the middle of the place where we planned to build the palace grew a tall olive tree, straight and strong as a pillar. I let it stand, and had the rooms so arranged that it was inside our bedchamber. When the stone walls were up, I cut away the leafy branches of the tree, set in a ceiling of wood, and smoothed and carved the trunk. It formed one post of the couch, and the others were made to match it. Then the frame was inlaid with gold, silver, and ivory, and thongs of oxhide were stretched from end to end to hold fleeces and coverlets. This was our couch, Penelope. I do not know whether it still stands, but whoever moved it had to hew the trunk of the olive tree from its root.”
When the queen heard these words her knees shook. Weeping she rose from her chair, ran to her husband, opened her arms to clasp him, and kissed his head many times. “Odysseus!” she cried, “you have always been the wisest of men! Do not be angry with me for this! The deathless gods sent us suffering because it would have been too much bliss for mortals to spend their youth in joy, and travel a smooth path to old age. You must not hold it against me that I did not instantly welcome you. My heart was in constant fear that some deceiver might trick me. Now that you have spoken of what no one knows except you and me and old Actoris who came here with me from my father’s house, my doubt is dispelled and I am wholly convinced.”
Through the night, husband and wife told each other all they had suffered in those twenty years, and Penelope had no rest until she had heard of all the wanderings of Odysseus. But at last they fell silent and went to their couch. Deep peace and quiet reigned throughout the palace.
ODYSSEUS AND LAERTES
The following morning Odysseus prepared for a journey. “We two,” he said to Penelope, “have almost drained the cup of sorrow, you with grieving for me, and I with longing to return to my native land. Now that we are together again and masters of what is ours, you shall see to what property still remains in our house. What the suitors have wasted will be made good partly by the gifts they presented at the very last, partly by the spoils and the gifts I brought home with me. But I must go to the country, to my old father who has been mourning my death for so long. Now since the rumor of the suitors’ death is bound to spread sooner or later, I advise you to withdraw to the women’s quarters with your handmaids, and give no one an opportunity to see or question you.”
So saying, Odysseus slung his sword over his shoulder and woke Telemachus and the two herdsmen who were to accompany him. All three armed, and at sunrise Odysseus hastened through the city with them. But Pallas Athene shed a heavy mist about them, so that no one could see the four travellers.
They soon reached the farm of old Laertes, one of the first he had acquired to swell the number of acres which were his by inheritance. In the middle was the house, and all around it were stables, sheds, and other outbuildings. An old Sicilian woman saw to the needs of her master in that remote and lonely place. When they stood before the door, Odysseus said to his companions: “Go in, and have a fatted boar slaughtered in honor of my homecoming. I myself will go out to the fields where my father is probably toiling, and see if he recognizes me. Then he and I will return, and we shall feast and rejoice.” With that, Odysseus handed his sword and his spear to Telemachus, and the three went into the house.
But he himself took the path to the fields. First he crossed the orchard. In vain he looked for Dolius, the head gardener, for his sons, and for the rest of the fieldworkers. They had all gone to fetch stones to fence in the vineyard. When Odysseus got there, he found his old father alone. He was busy transplanting a vine. The old man looked like a laborer. He was wearing a coarse, soiled smock covered with patches, and had protected his legs from thorns by wrapping around them strips of leather. His hands were gloved with old hide, and on his head was a goatskin cap.
When Odysseus saw his father in this wretched attire he was so shaken with sorrow that he had to support himself against a pear tree while he wept bitterly. Nevertheless he could not resist the temptation to question his father and try him with gentle reproaches. He went up to the old man who was just loosening the earth around a tree, and said to him: “You seem to understand fruit-growing. Vines, olive, fig and pear trees—all are well-tended. And the vegetable garden is excellently cared for too. There is only one thing wrong, and please do not be offended if I tell you frankly what it is. You yourself are not well taken care of, old man. It is not right for your master to let you go around in soiled, patched clothes. To look at you, one would not think that you were a servant at all. Your build is kingly. A man like you deserves a bath and good food and the comforts due to old age. Tell me, whom do you work for? And is this country really Ithaca, as a man I just met told me? He was, I must say, a discourteous fellow. He did not even bother to answer me when I asked him if a friend to whom I am bound by ties of hospitality was still living here. I want to visit him. For you see, long ago I gave lodging to a man in my own country, and no dearer guest ever crossed my threshold. He came from Ithaca and told me he was the son of Laertes. I gave him the best of all I had and honored him with gifts when he left me—seven talents of the finest gold, a silver pitcher embossed with flowers, twelve tapestries, tunics and mantles, and four lovely and skilled handmaids whom I let him choose for himself.”
This was the tale Odysseus invented on the spur of the moment. When his father heard it he lifted his head, and his eyes filled with tears as he said: “You have, indeed, come to the land you inquired about, stranger. But base and arrogant people, whom all those gifts you mentioned would not satisfy, live in it now. The man you are looking for is no longer here. Had you found him, Oh, how amply he would have requited you for what you did for him! But now tell me how many years have passed since your guest, since my son visited you. For it was my son, my poor son who now, perhaps, lies at the bottom of the sea, or whose flesh wild beasts and birds of prey have devoured. His parents could not even clothe him in a shroud! Penelope, his faithful wife, could not close his eyes and weep at his bier! But you—where did you come from? Where is your ship? Who is with you? Or were you a passenger on another’s ship and landed here alone?”
“I shall tell you,” said Odysseus. “I am Eperitus, son of Apheidas from Alybas. A tempest drove my ship from Sicania toward your shores, and it lies at anchor not far from the city. It is five years since Odysseus, your son, left my country. He was light of heart when he went, and birds of good omen accompanied him. We hoped to visit each other often, and each vowed to speed his guest with splendid gifts.”
The world grew dark before the eyes of old Laertes. With both hands he took the dark dust and strewed it over his gray head and broke into loud lament. Then the heart of Odysseus was stirred and almost burst in his breast. He rushed to his father, flung his arms around him, and cried: “It is I, it is I myself, father, about whom you asked! After twenty years I have come home! Check your grief and tearful lamenting, for I shall tell you the good news in few words: I have slain all the suitors in my palace!”
Laertes looked at him in amazement and finally said: “If you are really Odysseus, if you are really my son, give me a clear sign so that I may be sure.”
“First of all, father,” said Odysseus, “look at this scar. It came from the wound a boar dealt me in the chase, the time you and my mother sent me to her old father Autolycus to fetch the gifts he had promised me. But you shall have other proof. I shall show you the trees you once gave me. For when I was a very little boy and went to the orchard with you, we walked between rows of trees and you told me the names of the various kinds. Thirteen pear trees you gave me, ten apple trees, forty fig trees, and fifty vines which bear great clusters of grapes.” The old man could doubt no longer. He reeled fainting against his son, who caught him in his sinewy arms. When he had regained consciousness, he cried in a loud voice: “Zeus and all the gods! I know it is my son, if indeed the suitors have been punished!” Then he turned to Odysseus: “Hardly have I got you back when I am tormented with fresh anxiety for you, my son,” he said. “Because of you, the noblest families in Ithaca and the surrounding islands have lost their sons. The city, the entire region will rise against you!”
“Do not be afraid, father,” Odysseus comforted him. “Let us not brood over these things now, but go to your house where your grandson Telemachus is waiting for us. With him are the two herdsmen who tend the cows and the swine, and they have prepared our meal.”
When they reached the house, they found Telemachus and his companions cutting up the meat and filling the cups with wine. But before he sat down to eat, Laertes was bathed and anointed by his faithful old servant. For the first time in years he put on a kingly robe. And while he was fastening it, Pallas Athene approached, straightened his bowed shoulders, and made him tall and majestic, so that when he joined the others Odysseus looked at him in astonishment and said: “Surely one of the immortals must have increased your stature and strength!”
And Laertes replied: “Had I felt as young and strong yesterday as now, I should have fought at your side, and many a suitor would have fallen beneath my blows.”
As they sat down to the meal, Dolius and his sons returned from their work in the fields. When they saw Odysseus, they stood still in amazement, as if rooted to the threshold, but Odysseus spoke kindly to them. “We have been waiting for you,” he said. “Come and eat with us now, and save your wonder for another time.”
Then Dolius ran to him and kissed his hands at the wrist. “You have come home at last, my dear master!” he cried. “Our wish is fulfilled! But tell me, does Penelope know, or shall we send her a message?”
“She knows everything,” said Odysseus. “No messenger is needed.” Then the sons of Dolius crowded around their king, and together they feasted at the board.
ATHENE CALMS REBELLION IN THE CITY
In the meantime, rumors of the terrible fate which had overtaken the suitors spread through the city of Ithaca. The kinsmen of the slain streamed from all sides and hastened to the palace where they found the corpses heaped in a corner of the court. With loud laments they carried them off for burial. The bodies of the suitors who had come from islands nearby were sent home in fishing boats.
Then the fathers, brothers, and other kinsmen of the dead gathered in the market place. Eupeithes, father of Antinous, was first to speak. “Friends,” he said in a voice broken with tears, “the man I accuse here before you has brought misfortune on Ithaca and on her neighbor islands. Twenty years ago he took many of our brave citizens off in his ships. And he lost both ships and men! Now that he has returned alone, he has slain the best of our young men. Come, let us pursue this evildoer before he has time to escape to Pylos or Elis! We must seize him or be disgraced for all time. For our sons and grandsons would be shamed if we did not punish the murderer of our sons and brothers. I, at any rate, could not live with this blot on my honor. The soul of my son would drag me down to the underworld. So let us follow Odysseus and Telemachus before they can leave this island!”
His listeners kindled at these words, but just as they were prepared to start their pursuit, Phemius, the singer, and Medon, the herald, appeared in their midst. Their coming evoked surprise, for no one had dreamed they were still among the living. And Medon addressed the assembly: “Men of Ithaca, hear what I have to say to you! What Odysseus has done, I can swear to you, was not done against the will of the gods. I myself saw an immortal who, in the shape of Mentor, stood beside him, now quickening his heart with courage, now casting a spell of madness on the suitors. It was this god who felled them, who littered the floor with their bodies.”
Terror seized the gathering at these words of Medon’s. When they had recovered from the first shock, gray-haired Halitherses, son of Mastor, who could look before and after, rose and spoke. “Citizens of Ithaca,” he said, “you yourselves are at fault for all that has happened. Why were you so slack and indifferent? Why did you not follow Mentor’s and my advice and curb your headstrong sons who went to the palace day after day, squandering the possessions of our king and harassing his wife with their demands? You alone are to blame for all that took place in the palace. If you are wise, you will not pursue a man who has done nothing but slay the foes who intruded on his house. If you do, misfortune will overtake you, and your own actions will be the cause of it.”
When Halitherses had ended, tumult broke out among the people. Some sided with the older man, others with Eupeithes. Some, therefore, remained in the market place while the rest girt on their armor and met outside the city to go forth and avenge their kinsmen.
When Pallas Athene, gazing down from Olympus, saw the angry mob, she went to her father Zeus and said: “Ruler of us all, tell me what your wisdom prompts you. Is it your will to punish the peaceful inhabitants of Ithaca with discord and civil war, or to calm the feud between these two factions?”
“Why inquire about decisions long since made?” said Zeus. “Was it not you who resolved, with my full consent, that Odysseus should come home and avenge the wrongs done to his house? Since I accorded you your wish then, do as you like now. But if you ask my advice, it is this. The suitors have been destroyed; Odysseus shall be king for all time, and this shall be sworn to in a sacred covenant. We gods shall see to it that the kinsmen of the slain forget their anger and sorrow. They shall be at peace with their king and one another, and peace and prosperity shall reign in Ithaca.”
The goddess was well pleased with these words. She left the craggy heights of Olympus and darted down to the island of Ithaca.
ODYSSEUS THE VICTOR
The meal in the house of Laertes was over. They were still seated at the table and listening to the story of Odysseus. At last he said: “I fear that while we have been talking, our enemies have not wasted their time. It might be wise for one of us to go to see whether they are coming.” Instantly one of the sons of Dolius rose and left the room. He had not gone far before he saw a host in full battle array surging toward the farm. In great alarm he raced back and called: “They are coming, Odysseus, and are almost here! Quickly, take to your weapons!” And up jumped the men seated around the table. Odysseus, his son, and the two herdsmen made four. Then came the six sons of Dolius, and finally gray-haired Laertes and Dolius themselves. Odysseus headed the little troop, and they thronged over the threshold.
Hardly were they out in the open when a powerful ally, Pallas Athene in the shape of Mentor, joined them. Odysseus recognized her at once, and his heart beat high with hope. “Telemachus,” he said to his son, “now justify my faith in you. Fight in the forefront and do honor to your line which has always been distinguished for courage and staunchness!”
“Can you doubt me after seeing me fight the suitors?” Telemachus replied. “I shall not disgrace you and our house.”
“What a day!” cried Laertes jubilantly. “Father, son, and grandson will vie in valor!” As the last word left his lips, Pallas Athene approached him and whispered in his ear: “Son of Arcisius, you who are dearer to me than all other men, pray to Zeus and the daughter of Zeus, and then hurl your lance.” So said Athene, and she filled his heart with courage. He made his prayer and cast his spear, and it struck the cheek piece of Eupeithes’ helmet and pierced the jaw of his foe. With a loud clatter of arms the father of Antinous sank into the dust. Odysseus and Telemachus, meanwhile, led their companions against their enemies and raged among them with sword and lance. They would have killed all of them and not one would have returned home, had not Pallas Athene raised her voice and stopped the fighting. “Leave off, citizens of Ithaca,” she cried. “Leave off and disperse. This strife shall end here and now!”
Her words rang out like thunder, and the weapons dropped from the hands of the warriors and rolled on the ground. As if a storm had scattered them they turned and fled to the city, intent only on saving their lives. But Odysseus and his men were not terrified by the voice of their ally. High they swung their swords and brandished their lances, and they followed their foes like eagles pursuing their prey.
But Zeus wanted peace. He flashed his lightning into the earth before the feet of the goddess. “Son of Laertes,” she said, turning back to Odysseus, “curb your lust for battle, so that the Thunderer may not be displeased with you!” Willingly Odysseus and his men obeyed, and Athene led them to the market place of Ithaca. Heralds were dispatched to summon the people to assembly. They came with tranquil hearts, and Athene, in the shape of Mentor, set a covenant between the king and his people.